Excerpted from Public Space Amenities: A Guide to their Design and Management of in Downtowns, Neighborhood Commercial Districts, and Parks, published by Project for Public Spaces.
A good bus shelter is an essential part of any successful urban mass-transit system. What constitutes "good," however, depends upon your point of view. From the perspective of the city agency that is responsible for its management, a good shelter is one that has low maintenance requirements and is vandal-resistant. From the rider's point of view, an ideal shelter is one that allows visibility and easy access to the bus, is comfortable and convenient, provides clear information, and is safe.
Both viewpoints are equally important to consider, because an unused shelter is a waste of money and an unnecessary maintenance problem. A well-designed, comfortable shelter can make waiting for a bus a pleasant -- and even interesting -- experience! Unfortunately, many poorly designed shelters also exist.
To decide what type of shelter to use in a particular area requires an analysis of existing and anticipated conditions, as well as some knowledge of the characteristics of good shelter location and design. Information about each factor is included below.
There are some general guidelines that should be followed in deciding whether or not a bus shelter is needed. Situations where a shelter is required include the following: neighborhoods where buses run infrequently; commercial areas with frequent service and high levels of ridership; areas where security is a problem; neighborhoods where there are many older or infirmed people; and areas where inclement weather is common.
Good locations for bus shelters are near retail stores that have products related to bus riders' needs (e.g. bakery, flower shop, newsstand, etc.) and are open late at night; near office building entrances within view of a security guard; near street vendors; and in conjunction with other amenities such as telephones, benches, and so on.
Specific guidelines for locating bus shelters are noted below:
A bus shelter should be designed to reflect the city in which it is located. This can be accomplished through the use of local materials and by the design details. Often standard shelters can be adapted to reflect the unique characteristics of the area in which they are located.
Within this context there are four general qualities that any well-designed bus shelter should have. These qualities, described below, are visibility, accessibility, comfort and convenience, and information.
People must be able to see the bus coming. Poorly designed shelters that obstruct views of approaching buses will force people to leave the shelters to watch for oncoming buses.
People must be able to board the bus conveniently. To many riders this is the most important aspect of a bus shelter's design, because people like to be close to the point where the bus door will open so they will be sure of getting on. The shelter should not obstruct this process of boarding.
Comfort and Convenience
Shelters should provide a place to sit, protection from weather, and a feeling of safety and security.
People need to know when a bus will arrive and where it will go. This is especially important for people who are unfamiliar with the service, such as tourists.
The following design guidelines can be used in designing or selecting a bus shelter:
Seating and Leaning Rails
To be durable, bus shelters should be composed of structural members and inset panels, not snap-together "curtain walls" or decorative sections that are easily vandalized. In general, a steel structure is best. Wood is not as durable and concrete tends to be monolithic in appearance and tends to discolor and soil easily. For flexibility, installation should be by means of bolted attachment rather than by casting in place.
There should be few movable parts, as they are easily broken. Parts should be easy to reorder and replace and should not require removal of other parts or sections for access to make the repair. Materials should be vandal, graffiti, weather, salt, and rust resistant, and easy to clean. A protective finish can be applied to steel in cases where salt damage is severe. Herculite glass side panels (used in New York City) resist scratching, are strong, shatter-resistant, and easy to clean. Plastic or Plexiglas is not recommended as it tends to discolor and scratch easily, reducing visibility from the shelter. The manufacturer of the bus shelter should be consulted as to the best combination of materials and finishes for a particular area.
In addition to these specific issues it is also important to consider the bus shelter within the context of the overall transit system. Cooperation is necessary, therefore, between the city, the transit company, and any other parties involved in the maintenance and management of the shelter. This requires a commitment by the city to a high level of maintenance and management. There is considerable research that shows that a well-maintained bus shelter will be better respected and less subject to vandalism and other abuses than one that is poorly maintained. A good maintenance program is also contingent upon a bus shelter that is designed to minimize the amount of litter collection, cleaning, and minor repairs needed, as was described previously. A good maintenance program should include a program for monitoring the use of bus shelters once they are installed.
Alternative financing mechanisms for bus shelters are becoming increasingly popular in many cities. Using private contractors to construct and maintain the shelters is one way to obtain and maintain shelters al no public cost. Private contractors typically use revenues generated by advertisements on the shelters. If this method of financing is used, it is especially important that the design, locations, and amenities that are to be provided within the shelter be specified in the contract between the city and the contractor.