Who funds bus shelters? It depends on the circumstances

A bus stop in Newport News outside of Tech Center (WYDaily/ Julia Marsigliano)
A bus stop in Newport News outside of Tech Center (Southside Daily/ Julia Marsigliano)

In Hampton Roads, there are hundreds of bus stops scattered throughout the six cities: Newport News, Hampton, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach and each locality, along with the Hampton Roads Transit, is responsible for them.

Sybil Pappas, chief engineering officer at HRT, said the organization relies heavily on federal and state money and grants to fund each bus shelter — otherwise known as “passenger amenities” consisting of a bus shelter, bench and a trash can.

“We started with a specific grant for $800,000 several years ago,” Pappas said, adding it was divided by the localities. “At this point we’ve spent it.”

Each bus shelter costs around $10,000 and the benches and trash cans cost approximately $3,000, which does not include the cost of infrastructure such as complying with ADA requirements, installing concrete pads for benches and having the trash can fit in with the aesthetic of an area.

According to the 2018 Transit Development Plan, bus shelters are added to bus stops with at least 25 boarders daily but because of funding, bus stops with 40 passengers or more are prioritized.

While those numbers seem concrete, Pappas said HRT uses soft criteria to determine if passenger amenities are needed at a bus stop. For example, if the bus stop is near a hospital, a nursing home or a high school, the cities could pay for it until the bus route meets the ridership requirement.

Typically, HRT uses its operating budget to clean and maintain shelters from cleaning vandalism to taking out the trash three times a week, which costs about $15.

It costs HRT $1,000 a year to maintain one bus shelter — bench and trash can.

In Newport News, $100,000 worth of bus shelters were installed this past year and in Hampton no bus shelters were installed.

“The city can and does make suggestions for bus stop locations, within that framework,” Robin McCormick, spokeswoman for Hampton, wrote in an email. “Beyond that, additional shelters could be funded with city tax dollars, a neighborhood association, or a business or business district.”

Kim Lee, spokeswoman for Newport News, said the city was working with HRT on adding more shelters — she said the city used a grant to help pay for the bus shelters.

“We still have some funds remaining from that grant to spend on bus stop amenities and we are working with HRT to identify the stops that meet the established criteria.”

Lee said the city received $640,000 in CMAQ grants for bus shelters at least eight years ago and the grant has $186,000 remaining, which could pay for anywhere from 10 to 13 shelters.

Pappas said Newport News and Virginia Beach have “stepped forward” allocating money over several years for bus shelters to the HRT, about $800,000 and $1 million, respectively, noting it would take several years to implement.

“Newport News has 8 years of grant money for passenger amenities,” Pappas said. “Their grants total $867,000.”

HRT will receive another $300,000 from other grants, Pappas said.

While Pappas appreciates people adding a plastic bag to a bus stop sign, it creates problem since people assume someone will take out the trash. Instead, she said people can participate in HRT’s Adopt-A-Stop program where HRT will pay for a bench and trash can and the person or organization who adopts the bus stop is responsible for taking out the trash.

As past of the Transform Transit Plan, the Hampton Roads Transit is hosting a series of public meetings in all six cities where customers can ask questions, voice their concerns and learn more about the transit system. See the full schedule of meetings here.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.