Transit agency unveils city's new bus shelters

Design is applauded

seats get chillier reaction

January 08, 2003|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Transit Administration could hardly have picked a better time to unveil its new bus shelters than yesterday afternoon.

It wasn't raining or snowing, but a frigid wind whipped off the Inner Harbor as state transit officials huddled under a new glass-and-aluminum shelter at Pratt and Light streets.

"These are the kinds of things that make people see transit not as a system of last resort, but as a system they would actively use for work and leisure and other pursuits," said Eugene Peterson, co-chairman of the regional Transit Riders League.

The sleek, $15,000 shelters will be lighted at night and feature large advertisements. Ten have been installed in the last month in downtown Baltimore, and another 290 shelters will pop up along city and suburban streets during the next few years. The MTA hopes they will encourage non-riders to give buses a chance.

Yesterday's announcement occurred one month after an advocacy group gave the MTA a failing grade for the shelters and seating at its bus stops. The Citizens Planning and Housing Association found that almost half of the 1,010 bus stops surveyed did not have seating, and half of those seats were unusable because they were dirty or broken.

The benches in the new shelters are made of steel and painted black to discourage vandalism. But they are very, very cold.

"These seats are freezing - oh, my goodness!" said Tillie Buckson, 66, of Northwood as she waited for a bus on Pratt Street yesterday. She and others feared the benches would also conduct heat in the summers and be unusable.

"The shelter design is great. It's the material of the seat that needs work," said Ed Cohen, a members of the MTA's citizens advisory committee. He suggested the benches be made of a nonconducting material such as fiberglass.

The shelters aren't costing the MTA a dime. They are being installed and maintained by Viacom Outdoor Inc. of New York, which will sell the ads for the shelters. About 240 will have ads, and another 60 that will go in historic and residential neighborhoods will be ad-free.

"We recognize that what looks great in downtown Baltimore may not be suitable for a residential or historic area, like Mount Vernon," said MTA spokeswoman Suzanne Bond.

The MTA and local governments will each receive $100 per month for every shelter that carries an ad. About 250 of the new shelters will be in the city, with the remaining 50 in Anne Arundel and Harford counties.

Viacom said it would not permit ads that are distasteful or contain nudity. The company rejected ads last year from the San Francisco Health Department that featured cartoons of male genitalia as part of that city's Healthy Penis 2002 campaign. Viacom said the ads would offend children.

The company has 107 contracts with cities and transit agencies across North America and maintains about 17,000 shelters. Its contract with the MTA is for 10 years. After that, the MTA will own the shelters.

The MTA now has about 300 shelters at bus stops. As those are replaced, the ones in the best condition will be used at other locations or sent to other transit agencies in the state for use.

Besides the ads, the new shelters will feature transit system maps and space for public service announcements - moves applauded by riders yesterday.

"It's good to have these maps, because I get lost coming out the front door," said Roberta Holden, 41, who commutes by bus to her job at the Harbor Court Hotel. She said the benches should accommodate more than three people, but in yesterday's chill she wasn't about to sit down anyway.

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