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An often overlooked piece of the city’s infrastructure – bus shelters – may be in line for special attention in 2022.
At the Dec. 13 City Council Planning and Development (P&D) Committee meeting, Jessica Hyink, the city’s Transportation and Mobility Coordinator, told Council members that city staff members are looking at ways to improve the bus shelters’ “livability” for those who use public transportation.
Currently, the company Creative Outdoor Advertising (COA) is in the final year of its 10-year agreement with the city as Evanston’s exclusive bus-shelter contractor.
The company has eight bus shelters in Evanston. Seven serve CTA routes and one is a Pace-only route, Hyink told the Committee.
The company has told the city, however, that it is unable to expand the city’s current bus-shelter program due to a lack of advertising revenue, Hyink said.
She said staff recommends a number of options for Council members to consider, with COA’s contract scheduled to expire on April 30.
Currently there are a number of bus shelters in the city under different owners, Hyink said.
“Some are owned by Pace, and some [by] unknown entities, and some are owned by the city,” she said. “Some of these shelters are ADA-compliant.” COA’s shelters, with a bench in the middle, are not, she said.
Generally, the non-COA shelters do not have advertisements and “are very dated,” she said.
Pace, meanwhile, offers a program that has come to the city’s attention, she said. The Pace program would entail no cost to the city for the installation or maintenance of shelters, she said, and, unlike the COA program, includes snow removal.
Like the COA program, Pace requires that advertising be part of the program, with the city receiving half the net billings.
“However, Pace has noted, as COA has noted, that the advertisement revenue at the shelters is down, largely due to the pandemic,” Hyink said.
Pace has a number of shelter designs to choose from, said Hyink, showing some in her virtual presentation.
If a bus stop has enough ridership, she said, an LED sign with real bus tracking information is also included.
CTA a separate matter
On the downside, Pace will not install shelters at CTA-only stops – only at stops shared by the two agencies.
“CTA does not have a bus shelter program,” Hyink said. “However, the city could choose to purchase Pace-designed bus shelters for CTA-only stops, to ensure that there is a consistent design of infrastructure within the city.”
To pay for the purchase of the Pace-like shelters for CTA stops, the city might be able to tap funds from a Regional Transit Authority award it is expecting to receive, she said.
Additionally, said Hyink, the city could consider entering into an advertising agreement with Pace, similar to what it did with COA.
However, with advertising revenue down during the pandemic, it might be difficult to find an advertising agreement that would support the program that way, she added.
Staff recommended the city enter an intergovernmental agreement with Pace to provide bus shelters and bus-shelter maintenance at Pace-only and shared Pace and CTA bus stops in Evanston.
As part of the intergovernmental agreement with Pace, the city would be able to veto locations, Hyink noted, “and also to recommend other locations. And because CTA does not have their own program and is funded by other revenue sources, then the city has a larger determination in where those shelters go.”
To ensure public buy-in, staff is recommending a public-outreach process be conducted to gauge community support on the location of the shelters.
There are currently 205 CTA bus stops, including existing flagged stops, and 100 Pace bus stops, Hyink noted in her memo.
“Ensuring a safe and comfortable place to board the bus improves the livability of those who utilize public transportation,” she said.
“Additionally, the presence of bus shelters has been found to increase public transportation use, helping the city achieve the CARP [Climate Action and Resilience Program] transportation and mobility goal to ‘reduce vehicle miles traveled; increase trips made by walking, bicycling and transit.’”
In discussion at the Dec. 13 meeting, 3rd Ward Council member Melissa Wynne, for many years head of a city committee that dealt with transportation issues, argued that going forward with the staff plan made the most sense.
“And certainly, working to get uniformity in our bus stops, and then getting community input into where are the best places to put them … I think it’s really critical.”
Fourth Ward Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma asked Hyink to explain the difference between a shelter that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and one that is not.
Hyink said that under ADA requirements, if a person uses a device for assistance, such as a wheelchair, that person should be able to enter into the shelter and be fully covered from the elements.
“And so with the design of the shelters from the last contract [with COA, which includes benches] a person with a wheelchair cannot pull into the shelter.”
Committee members voted 5-0 in support of staff’s moving forward on an intergovernmental agreement with Pace to provide bus shelters and perform bus-shelter maintenance at Pace-only and shared-Pace and CTA bus stops in Evanston.
Staff is expected to report at a future meeting on the feasibility of extending the city’s contract with COA another year until a new shelter program is established.