Bus shelter caste system?

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March 8, 2004 // UPDATED 9:26 am - April 25, 2007
By: Bao Ong
Bao Ong

Why some waiting areas have heaters; others just a metal sign

Bonita Kraemer has no problem navigating the numerous Metro Transit bus routes she takes on a daily basis. The personal care assistant for people with disabilities takes the buses anywhere from her Northeast home to St. Paul and throughout the Metro-area. She would just like a bus shelter that keeps her dry from rain and warm during the winter.

"They [buses] come pretty often, so it's not too bad. I don't notice that many problems," said Kraemer, a long-time bus rider. "I just wish there were more heaters in them [the bus shelters]."

Not all shelters are created equal, though. Some have posted schedules, some have heating and others have neither.

What Kraemer and thousands of other Metro Transit bus riders may not realize is that the 210 bus shelters in Downtown are individually operated and maintained by one of four different groups: Metro Transit, the Nicollet Mall Advisory Board, Transtop and private businesses.

Metro Transit-owned bus shelters don't display advertisements like Transtop shelters. The Nicollet Mall Advisory Board maintains the fancier shelters with glass panels, heating and lighting that line Nicollet Mall between Washington Avenue and South 14th Street. And more than a dozen businesses, such as American Express, 707 2nd Ave. S., and those in Pillsbury Center, 220 S. 6th St., have built their own shelters for the convenience of their workers.

Metro Transit attempts to work with each of the other groups to keep shelters in working condition.

For riders like Kraemer who are trying to stay warm, there are about 20 heated shelters Downtown, said Aaron Isaacs, a Metro Transit facilities planning manager. All shelters run on different cleaning and repairing schedules, depending on the responsible party.

Besides budgetary reasons, Isaac said, if and where Metro Transit builds a heated shelter depends on their ability to lay electrical wires in the area, the number of riders using each stop and whether the sidewalk is wide enough to accommodate it. At least 100 riders must board from a stop each weekday for a heated shelter to be built, Isaac said.

"We haven't done as much as we'd like to," Isaacs said. "What we do varies from year-to-year because of our budget . . . We always get requests for more shelters, but people don't always remember that each shelter means there will be additional operating cost."

Give me shelter

Wayne Schafer, a Metro Transit facilities maintenance manager, said his crew of 14 workers cleans the Metro Transit-owned bus shelters, makes electrical repairs, replaces broken glass and shovels snow in the winter across the Twin Cities. One staff person is assigned to clean each Downtown Minneapolis shelter once a day during peak commuting hours, and busier Downtown stops are cleaned twice a day.

Bus riders often blame Metro Transit for other companies' dirty or broken- down bus shelters, said Bob Gibbons, a Metro Transit spokesperson. While it isn't their direct responsibility, Metro Transit attempts to work with the responsible party to keep the shelters in working condition, Gibbons said.

For instance, Metro Transit may notify Transtop, a Bloomington-based company responsible for 335 bus shelters in the Twin Cities, regarding a problem with one of their shelters.

"We try to provide comfortable waiting for people," Gibbons said. "It's an asset that we don't have to own or maintain all the shelters."

Since 1980, Transtop has sold local and national ads to build and maintain bus shelters through a public-private partnership, said Connie Barry, president and CEO of Transtop.

"We have an ad on the shelter and that pays for the shelter," Barry said. "Bus riders get 335 free shelters [in the Metro-area]. We construct them, clean, repair and remove snow. The city, Metro Transit and tax payers don't pay for it."

Barry did not recall any complaints regarding bus shelter maintenance. Although Transtop occasionally hires temporary workers for snow removal, there are enough workers to get the job done, she said.

A private matter

In Downtown, private businesses and associations maintain 10 Nicollet Mall and 17 other shelters.

Brian Fesler, a Nicollet Mall Advisory Board and mall maintenance subcommittee member, said businesses on Nicollet Mall pay a special assessment tax in addition to their property tax, and part of that money is used to build and maintain the shelters.

The board has set aside $45,000 for bus shelter and kiosk maintenance in 2004 and has also earmarked $15,000 of that towards fixing and installing lights and heating lamps, Fesler said.

Ray Haynus, a Nicollet Mall foreman who repairs bus shelters, said property owners were unsure about cleaning responsibilities at first but that it has not been a problem as of late.

"The budget we work with hasn't been a problem so far," said Haynus, who works with one other person to repair, paint and replace glass in bus shelters on Nicollet Mall. "We try to make things go as smoothly as possible."

When Kraemer takes the bus from Downtown, she's generally happy with whichever group is responsible for that particular shelter. She depends on public transportation to make her job easier.

"I don't think I ask for much," said Kraemer, who doesn't expect every shelter to be heated. "I just want the bus to stay on schedule as much as possible, be safe at my stop and feel comfortable.