A Henrietta bus stop last year failed to win the nation’s “sorriest bus stop” award—a roadside refuge in Silver Spring, Md., earned that honor—but the nomination did shine a light on a longtime transportation dilemma.
When funding is an issue, how do you cost-effectively meet the needs of public transportation customers?
A group of volunteers with Reconnect Rochester—a not-for-profit organization that works to improve transportation choices in the region—for several years have been providing a partial solution to that challenge. And it resembles a popular toy from childhood.
“I did a quick, back-of-the-napkin sketch, literally just a pencil sketch, of the simplest idea I could come up with, which was a cube,” said Reconnect Rochester President Mike Governale. “And sort of drew out how a simple, wood frame structure could work.”
Since 2014, Reconnect Rochester volunteers and others from the community—including volunteers with Flower City Habitat for Humanity—have been building seats for Rochester’s sorriest bus stops, and those seats resemble large building blocks.
“One weekend a bunch of us from Reconnect got together with off-the-shelf materials from Home Depot and we just built these things in my driveway, painted them and then put them out one weekend,” Governale recalled.
The result was a resounding success, Governale said. The group has built about 30 colorful cubes.
“Reconnect Rochester is a great partner to the community, RTS and our customers, and their bus stop cube program is a perfect example of that,” said Regional Transit Service spokesman Tom Brede. “It is helpful to have partners in the community like Reconnect Rochester that support public transit and share our commitment to making it easier for customers to enjoy the ride.”
Brede said the transportation company welcomes any opportunity to improve the customer’s experience.
“We’ve had many conversations with RTS and the city of Rochester about providing better infrastructure at transit hubs and bus stops, but the conversation always comes back around to not having enough money to invest in capital infrastructure,” Governale said. “RTS, to their credit, they always make an effort to use every bit of budget they can get from Albany and the U.S. (Department of Transportation) and put that into making the system better, but there’s a lot more that can be done.”
RTS provides 18 million rides for customers each year and has more than 900 employees. RTS buses serve eight counties in the Rochester region.
“There’s something like 2,400 bus stops in the RTS network now and only a fraction of those have shelters or benches,” Governale said. “And if you’re waiting for a bus for any length of time, even 10 minutes, it would just be nice to give people a place to sort of relax.”
Reconnect Rochester saw the lack of benches as a barrier to ridership.
“If they see people waiting in inhospitable areas of the city with the sun beating down on them … who wants to do that,” Governale explained. “But we can give people a dignified place to wait for their bus that just makes it easier for people to use the transit system and it also paints transit in a better light for people who haven’t used it before.”
The bus cubes are made from wood and are painted fun, bright colors. Each cube features a bus icon so RTS customers know they are theirs to use. The cost to build each cube is roughly $100, Governale said, and the cubes have to be stored in the winter to avoid being destroyed by weather or sidewalk plows.
“We always knew this design was more of a temporary solution. But we’ve been trying to balance the overwhelming demand from the community,” he said. “Every time we put a cube out there we need to find a place to store it and volunteers to build them and put them out there, and do that every year.”
As a result, Reconnect Rochester has been working with a fiberglass manufacturer in Medina, Orleans County, to draw up a design made entirely of fiberglass. The mold will cost about $2,500, Governale noted, and each cube will cost between $400 and $500.
Governale looked into standard metal benches. They cost $1,000 or more.
“If we can find the money to pay for the fiberglass molds and do the manufacturing of the fiberglass cubes, I think we can roll these out across Monroe County,” Governale said.
A lofty goal, perhaps, but one worth trying.
“The goal was really twofold,” Governale said of the group’s cubes. “It was to show that average citizens with an idea can make an impact on a seemingly huge problem, but also it was to draw attention to the need. An effort like this opens eyes and brings more people into the movement.”
And that Hylan Drive bus stop? It has a bench now, something RTS had in the pipeline since before the contest.
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