A Star Tribune analysis of Metro Transit data shows many exposed stops are the most used.
Vlad Eletsky is one of the nearly 700 people who board buses at a stop on 9th Street just west of Nicollet Mall each day.
But there’s no bus shelter, so when it’s raining, snowing or frigidly cold, he and his fellow passengers try to wait at the Target Store across the street, or at a nearby restaurant.
“But [at the restaurant] they chase you away, normally,” he said. “Especially in winter.”
The 9th Street bus stop is one of more than 460 exposed stops across the metro area with enough riders to qualify for a shelter, according to a Star Tribune analysis of Metro Transit passenger data.
Hundreds of passengers a day use those stops; in many cases, well over the 40 passengers needed to justify a shelter under Metro Transit rules.
Meanwhile, more than 200 of Metro Transit’s 801 existing bus shelters did not have enough riders to meet qualifications in late 2013.
The findings are based on data recently released publicly for the first time, documenting bus boardings for more than 10,000 stops served by Metro Transit.
The need for shelters is starkest downtown, down Franklin Avenue and along Penn and Fremont avenues on the North Side, where residents rely heavily on public transportation and crime rates are higher. And maps show that only nine shelters in north Minneapolis are lighted, far fewer than other parts of the city.
Metro Transit said it has been playing catch-up for several years, replacing a wave of shelters that reached the end of their 20-year life span — allowing them to build only a handful of new ones. The agency also recently inherited 153 shelters from CBS Outdoor, which did not follow these ridership guidelines when installing shelters.
“When you look at the number of stops that really are at a warranted level, I think we can do better,” said Brian Lamb, the agency’s general manager.
It’s one of the reasons, he said, why Metro Transit is focusing this year on expanding the total number of shelters, adding upward of 75 throughout the metro area. That’s on top of replacements.
Typical shelter costs $6,000
The placement of shelters is a tricky calculus for transit officials. To qualify for a shelter, the agency requires a bus stop to have at least 40 average daily boardings in Minneapolis and St. Paul, or 25 in the suburbs. Not every location has the topography or space available to accommodate one, however.
Each basic shelter typically costs $6,000 to install. Some of the highest ridership stops in downtowns provide improvised protection, such as building overhangs and the Wells Fargo building lobby on the popular 6th Street corridor in downtown Minneapolis.
A Metro Transit review spurred by the Star Tribune analysis found that about 325 urban and 137 suburban stops without formal shelters met the boarding requirements between late August and early December 2013.
Many of the urban stops that qualify for shelters have hundreds of passengers. Fifty-one exceed the minimum by 100 or more; 24 by 200 or more and 18 by 300 or more.
Conversely, about 178 urban shelters and 39 suburban shelters had daily boardings that fell below qualifications during that same period. Sixty-nine of those were recently owned by CBS. The agency typically only removes shelters that fall below 50 percent of the usage qualifications, depending on their age, which was the case at 96 locations.
“We just inherited those, we didn’t choose where they were going to be,” said Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland of the acquired CBS shelters. CBS still owns about 100 shelters in St. Paul and Roseville.