As the dewonkification of the term “infrastructure” marches forward in America, the humble bus shelter has been getting more and more love. (Hey, they’re cheaper to “fix” than bridges.) Whether turned into public art projects or deemed an essential ingredient of family-friendly cities, that sidewalk spot where commuters wait for the bus is a very tangible element of urban transportation — visible to those who don’t even want a ride.
This month, two very different cities have taken two different routes to elevating their bus shelters.
In Philadelphia, some riders could soon have their wait surrounded by digital ads — but not information about when the next bus is due. Though 600 new shelters (citizens are being asked to vote on where exactly they’ll go) are designed to be more welcoming shields from the elements, some critics are less than dazzled by the digitization.
The city has contracted with an advertising firm to fund the update (about $21,000 each), and an ad revenue-sharing agreement should bring in some extra cash. But because the region’s transportation authority, SEPTA, is using an older radio-based system, there won’t be useful displays of bus arrival times. Even if a new cellular system is brought online in the future, connecting that data to the shelters isn’t a sure thing.
“We’re building state-of-the-art shelters for 2005,” one residents’ association president told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In Los Angeles, higher-tech bus shelters — which will display real-time arrival information — are currently slated for 15 stops. But the inclusion of USB charging ports and LED lights aren’t doing the trick for critical bus regulars, who say bringing more adequate shade in sunny California to bus stops throughout L.A. is more important than dressing up 15 of them.
In the Los Angeles Times’ opinion section, Carren Jao notes that Santa Monica’s bus shelter overhaul a year ago implemented a customizable design depending on location, bringing shade exactly where the sun will shine most harshly during hours of high shelter use.
Like Philly, L.A. has an ad revenue-sharing contract, but making a splash with a few shelter upgrades is a fail, according to Jao, who argues, “What’s convenient for the city of Los Angeles — or what’s new and blog-worthy for that matter — doesn’t always translate to what’s best for the transit riders of Los Angeles.”
Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.