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Most Northeast Ohio bus stops don't have shelters. Here's what goes into deciding which gets them

A Greater Cleveland RTA bus shelter on Edgewater Drive in Lakewood, Ohio. The bus stop is for the 78 bus, which travels down West 117th Street to Puritas Avenue.
Zaria Johnson
Ideastream Public Media
A Greater Cleveland RTA bus shelter on Edgewater Drive in Lakewood, Ohio. The bus stop is for the 78 bus, which travels along West 117th Street to Puritas Avenue.

Chris Martin relies on the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority to get around Cleveland. Some bus stops, like at West 25th Street and Monroe Avenue, have shelters where he is able to sit or stand away from the elements. At other stops, Martin isn’t so lucky.

Martin is a member and chair of Clevelanders for Public Transit, a rider advocacy organization in Cleveland that advocates for effective and equitable public transportation. He doesn’t own a car, and depending on the day, Martin's commute might involve waiting for a bus at an unsheltered bus stop.

Shelters are important, regardless of the season, he said.

“The fact that there is no shelter at a bus stop is a deterrent to people wanting to ride the bus,” he said. “From the sun beating down on you on a hot summer day to a bitterly cold winter morning with snow blowing in the wind, shelter is absolutely crucial for the public transit riding experience.”

Although bus shelters provide relief from the weather, adding a shelter to a bus stop isn’t necessarily a simple process, said Kirt Conrad, executive director with the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority. SARTA serves all of Stark County, and has 48 bus shelters across the 1,455 bus stops on its fixed routes.

“Putting a bus stop in … is an investment and it takes some time to put in,” Conrad said. “It's just not as easy as putting a bus stop up.”

The bus shelters can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000, Conrad said, and require permissions from the city or county officials, or from the individual who owns the land the bus stop is on.

Bus Stop Requirements

Publicly funded, regional transit authorities are required to have a policy that governs which bus stops have shelters, said Joel Freilich, director of service management with the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. The policy can be driven by number of people boarding a stop each day, permission to build a shelter on the property, or a combination of factors.

“Our policy … states that the [GCRTA] seeks to provide shelter at a stop if 50 or more persons per day are expected to use that shelter, and if it's feasible to install,” Freilich said. “So, you need both honor our policy.”

Under this policy, a bus stop is considered feasible to install if the Greater Cleveland RTA is given permission by a municipality or property owner to install a shelter at a stop, and if the shelter will physically fit at a stop without obstructing car or foot traffic.

Greater Cleveland RTA serves the Cuyahoga County region and has about 5,500 bus stops on its 41 routes. Of those bus stops, more than 1,000 are sheltered, Freilich said.

The process is similar for both Akron Metro RTA, which serves Summit County, with more than 2,200 bus stops and 122 bus shelters along its fixed routes, and for SARTA.

SARTA typically considers adding bus shelters to stops with 10 to 20 people boarding per day, while the Akron Metro RTA tends to require 30 to 40 people per day.

“Obviously, our resources are limited, so we're going to put them where we have the highest ridership,” said Molly Becker, director of public relations and marketing with Akron Metro RTA. “We evaluate it, then we work with the municipalities, and then it could take six to eight months before we can actually get a shelter in there.”

Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority doesn't require a specific number of passengers boarding at a stop in order to consider building a shelter there, said PARTA Chief of Staff Kelly Jurisch.

Instead, each PARTA bus stop undergoes a ridership evaluation to determine if the stop is highly used, and if it's in an area that might benefit from a bus shelter.

"We require that it to be a stop that is highly used and not just a stop that sees a couple of people a day," she said. "When you look at the area, you want to look to see is this an area that somebody is just standing out in the open elements, or do they have some close protection as well?"

PARTA also evaluates the distance between sheltered bus stops, Jurisch said, to avoid having shelters too close together.

"We like to space out the shelters and not just have a bunch of shelters... in one area," she said. "We want to provide equal access for everybody if we can."

Bus shelters should be installed wherever feasible, regardless of the boarding requirement, said Chris Martin of Clevelanders for Public Transit. Transit agencies should also add other amenities to make the experience “easier and more enjoyable” for the rider, he said, like garbage cans, maps of bus routes and live timetables showing when the next bus will arrive.

Akron Metro RTA offers other amenities for riders of their transit system, including solar lighting, Wi-Fi on the buses and trash cans at the bus stops through a partnership with the city of Akron.

“We helped purchase the trash cans and then they [the city] help do the removal of the trash,” Becker said.

By adding more shelters, Martin said transit agencies will increase the number of daily riders and limit the amount of single occupancy vehicles, like cars and trucks, that contribute to carbon emissions and climate change.

“Public transit is a key tool in the fight against climate change,” Marin said. “Cleveland, as a likely climate refuge city, needs to be investing into its public transit infrastructure now so that we are as climate resilient as possible in the future.”

The Cuyahoga County Sustainability Plan notes improved regional mobility as one if its seven key strategies for combatting climate change. The Department of Sustainability aims to “increase access to alternative methods of transportation for residents and visitors to Cuyahoga County to enhance air quality and the environmental health of the community,” according to the document.

Once a shelter at a stop is approved, transit agencies must take steps before the shelter can be placed at the stop, Becker said. This might include pouring cement if the stop is currently located on a plot of grass, hiring a contractor and building the shelter itself.

PARTA works with the city or property owner to get the necessary permits and permissions to build the shelter. They also develop an agreement for the costs of pouring the cement and funding the shelter, features like lighting, drainage and landscaping and shelter maintenance.

Both Akron Metro RTA and SARTA evaluate the number of bus shelters each year. SARTA aims to add about 10 new shelters to its stops on a yearly basis. Akron Metro replaces up to 10 shelters and adds an additional seven shelters each year.

“It takes a while once we identify a key area that needs a stop,” Becker said, “but then we'll work with everybody that we need to to get the shelter in place.”

Adding new bus shelters
Riders can call their local transit agency to request a shelter at a bus stop, or submit the request on agency's website.

Adding more bus shelters would encourage more residents to take the bus regardless of weather conditions, Martin said.

“No one likes standing out in the freezing cold or pouring rain … because your bus stop doesn't have a shelter,” Martin said. “So, to encourage ridership, [the] RTA should be proactively encouraging cities and private property owners to install bus shelters.”

Marvetta Rutherford, the lead spokesperson for Clevelanders for Public Transit said a bus stop with seating and shelter would be a welcome relief after a long day of work.

“Normally when I ride the bus, there is a walk associated to get to wherever I'm going or get back to the bus,” she said. “So, being able to sit down after working would make it a whole hell of a lot better.”

But, when it comes to adding shelter along Greater Cleveland RTA bus routes, Freilich said “the policy drives the process.”

“The policy has to be objectively applied,” he said. “We are required to be fair and equitable with the distribution of our money, which is why we stick to our policy when we are paying for the shelters.”

Municipalities, business owners and private property owners are able to request and fund a shelter at a stop located on their property through the Greater Cleveland RTA's Shelter Community Investment Program. Through the program, the shelter can be added regardless of the number of daily boardings.

The funds paid to the agency go toward the maintenance of the shelter, Freilich said, including cleanings and repairs. The price ranges from about $10,000 to $22,000 depending on the size of the shelter and the amenities included.

“Some cities reach out directly to add shelters,” he said. “We’re always getting requests or identifying stops on our own. There’s never a year when we don’t add stops.”

When it comes to waiting outside at an unsheltered stop, Freilich said he recommends riders download apps to track when their bus will arrive, such as the Transit with EZfare app for Greater Cleveland RTA and Akron Metro RTA or the Pinpoint myStop app for SARTA.

“The Transit that will help you know when your bus is coming,” he said. “Performance is pretty good. You probably won't be standing there very long.”

Freilich also recommended dressing for the weather to ensure warmth and comfort at all stops on the transit line.

“As a transit rider, you know, you're always starting as a pedestrian and you're always ending as a pedestrian, … and so you have to dress for the weather because you’re walking,” Freilich said. “So, whatever you did to prepare yourself for the walk to the bus stop should also keep you warm while you wait for the bus.”

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.