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Tomorrow’s Bus Stops Today: L.A. Plans Digital Shelters

A $30 million project to modernize bus shelters in Los Angeles considers them as mobility hubs that could house modern amenities like digital screens, e-bike and e-scooter docking, dimmable lights and movable shade structures.

An orange Los Angeles bus arrives at dusk at a sleek silver metal bus shelter concept, during July 2021.
Demonstrations in Los Angeles in July 2021 showcased examples of new bus shelter technology and samples from potential contractors. Here, shelter lights dim to meet ambient light as a bus arrives.
City of Los Angeles
In Los Angeles, the bus stops of tomorrow may offer more than just a seat.

They could dock and charge electric bikes and scooters; offer a place to catch up on neighborhood information shared on digital screens; and even provide constant shade, from structures that move to follow the Southern California sun.

These are some of the design ideas being considered as officials move forward in developing 3,000 new bus shelters, to be rolled out in the coming year. The project is part of the Sidewalk and Transit Amenities Program (STAP), a $30 million plan to upgrade and modernize aging bus shelters.

“We can’t have reliable, comfortable transit without shade, to keep people cool and healthy, and especially for those who are dependent on buses,” said Randall Winston, the city’s deputy mayor of infrastructure, in remarks that opened the Curbivore Conference in downtown Los Angeles March 28. Those shelters, he added, should also include options for scooter docks, e-lockers for e-bikes and e-scooters, and kiosks.

A bus stop is the “perfect mobility hub,” said Gene Oh, CEO of Tranzito, a smart city technology firm focused on transportation innovation — and the company awarded the contract to develop the city’s new shelter program.

“A mobility hub is not just a place,” he said during a Curbivore panel discussion, explaining mobility hubs are three ideas in one: physical, digital and policy — and all three need to work together: “The best mobility hubs are the places where people already use mobility.” Curbivore formed to help technologists, restaurateurs, retailers, local governments and residents confront the post-pandemic economy and create equitable, sustainable cities and environments, per its website.

The new bus stop and mobility hub combos will reimagine what is generally a static object. Design and development efforts, said Matthew Potter, director of Interaction Design at Designworks, a BMW Group subsidiary involved with the design of the bus stops, aim to take this static object and redesign it “as a modern piece of infrastructure that is dynamic and changes over time.”

“So that we can take that and use that as a base of operations to include things like EV charging, and scooter docks, things like that that are meaningful for the community, provide last-mile assistance,” Potter said at the conference.

The new shelters will include “ad panels,” offering public service announcements and other community information, which can also serve as a revenue source for the city.

“The city will generate sufficient revenue from the shelters to reinvest in the public right of way,” Winston said.

Bus shelters tricked out with screens, Wi-Fi, e-bike and e-scooter storage and charging are all part of a broader trend to put the curb and public right of way to better use. Pedal-powered delivery operations like B-line Urban Delivery in Portland, Ore., have advocated for the development of infrastructure like small neighborhood hubs which could be areas with temporary package storage and charging stations.

These are the kinds of modern, digital mobility hubs of which Oh spoke.

“We want the governments to focus on the infrastructure — the hard, heavy lifting — and then use that as leverage to help private industry fill in the mobility gaps,” said Oh. “You start with the infrastructure, and you build on top of that.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.