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Budget-busting bus shelters

Posted by: Editor-Bonitta Best on Thursday, May 20, 2021 at 12:00:00 am

Livable Raleigh Blog

Raleigh city councilman Jonathan Melton is excited to spend an extra $720,000 on designer bus shelters. Bus rider Lenora Southerland just wants a place to sit while she waits.

Instead of moving quickly to add bus benches and shelters at more than 1,000 bus stops with neither, the city council continues to hype an expensive yet inferior custom shelter design at the expense of taxpayers and users.

While we’ve become accustomed to a Council putting selfie brand memes ahead of our city’s pressing problems, rarely do their actions offer up such a stark portrait of  hypocrisies as the recent images of Jonathan Melton and Lenora Southerland.

Mayor Mary Ann Baldwin continues to defend the inferior shelters’ extensive review process, while carefully avoiding the fact that the process has been extensive because it has been littered with design flaws, performance shortcomings and cost overruns. Here are the facts that Baldwin and the rest of Council continue to suppress in favor of their endless, self-serving memes:

If you have been following the issue of Raleigh’s shortage of bus shelters, you may be aware that there was a contest to select a new design for bus shelters in 2016. What you may not know is the competition had some criteria the entrants were expected to comply with. Those criteria are listed in the “competition brief” below.


AIA Activate NC invited designers to explore and develop a GoRaleigh bus shelter prototype design to generate excitement about transit while incorporating the new GoRaleigh branding to bus stops and bus shelters. The design must also address user criteria such as shelter from the elements, visibility, comfort, and safety. The competition asked design teams to create a new prototype bus shelter design within a $4,000 budget for potential citywide implementation. 

The “winning” design actually costs the city $8,300 to purchase. Over twice the cost of the defined rules of the competition. We assume the $4,000 budget, at 2016 prices, was intended to keep the design in line with the cost of a standard bus shelter and avoid busting the budget for shelters. At today’s prices, a standard shelter costs $4,700. So, the new design costs an extra $3,600 per shelter.

You may wonder if the winning design met the other criteria so well as to justify the exorbitant cost. Well, no, it didn’t. The other criteria for the competition were:

* shelter from the elements

* visibility

* safety

The city conducted a public survey comparing the new design to the existing standard bus shelter and the results did not show a winning comparison. Only 34% of respondents felt the new design provided adequate shelter from the elements and 66% felt they provided no increased safety. For visibility? They are certainly easy to see. But, once you are seated inside the shelter, the user’s ability to stay aware of their surroundings is severely limited.

In March 2020, the city council voted to approve moving forward with this design despite the fact that it did not meet the criteria set forth in the competition. This new design costs $3,600 more per shelter than the standard shelters it will replace. The end result is that the city has committed to spending an extra $720,000 over the cost of standard shelters on the 200 bus shelters planned for installation. All this while 1,000 bus stops go without even a bench to sit on.



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