You won’t be able to miss Raleigh’s new bus shelters. That’s the point. 

Over the next four years, the city plans to spend $5.7 million installing the bright-red, modern-looking shelters at 200 bus stops across the city. The goal isn’t just to keep riders dry while they wait but to draw more people to GoRaleigh. 

But the city has more pressing needs, says council member David Cox, and it could have saved $720,000 by going with a standard black option. 

“We need to provide great service and not branding,” Cox told the INDY via text message. “There are better uses for the money—there are many.”

Cox was the lone dissenter last week when the council voted on the project’s first phase, which will construct 30 shelters. 

The shelter project has been in the pipeline since 2016 but got delayed in 2018 when the previous council requested more time to review design options. The council reviewed the final designs and the cheaper option last week. The latter would cost about $4,700 per shelter; the model the council selected comes in at $8,300 a pop. That’s a difference of about $3,600 per shelter. 

“I’m not saying it’s a small amount. The figures you are seeing are not small numbers, I agree,” assistant transportation director David Eatman told the council. “But in the grand scheme of the total cost of nearly $30,000 on average, it’s not as large as you would think about in that context.”

That’s because three-quarters of the cost of installing shelters is the groundwork necessary to install them and make them ADA-compliant—about $20,000. So, in total, the more expensive option comes out to $28,300 per shelter, while the standard design is $24,700.

The city conducted an online survey in December to vet the new design. Forty-seven percent of the 758 respondents liked the new look; 41 percent said they didn’t. 

GoRaleigh’s new branding was created to foster a more cohesive, user-friendly image—and thus lure more new riders. But the transit system also wanted to provide a better experience for current riders, says Nathan Spencer, the GoRaleigh board’s vice chairman. They deserve nice things, too.

“We’re talking about spending a little extra on shelters, and people are very upset, and the truth is we’ve been doing this for cars for a long time,” Spencer says. “We need to be focused on the investments we’re making for riders because they push this economy every day.”

Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin believes the updated design is worth the price tag. “This has been in the works for four years,” she says. “A lot of thought and intentionality has gone into this. I think not moving forward sends the wrong message to the community about the value of design.”

Although council member Saige Martin criticized the shelter’s defensive design elements—including bars on the bench to prevent people from lying down—he supports the overall project.

“Not only does this put us on the map, you are not going to miss this bus stop,” Martin said during the council meeting. 

Waiting for a bus without a place to sit or shelter from a storm can be a “dehumanizing experience,” council member Patrick Buffkin added. He hopes businesses that employ residents who depend on the bus system will become as sponsors to help offset the cost. 

Still, Cox takes issue with the council’s priorities.

“So far, we’ve created a fund for the homeless with $25,000,” says Cox, who is said to be mulling a run for mayor next year. “I think the contrast in what we are spending on ‘branding’ speaks volumes.”

Diverting transportation funds to other purposes isn’t that simple, and the compassion fund to which Cox is referring—created in February—uses the council’s contingency money. But perhaps he has a point about who these shiny new shelters are meant for: The defensive design elements, after all, are there to keep the homeless from using the benches as beds.

Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at 

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2 replies on “Raleigh Plans to Spend an Extra $720K to Fancify Its Bus Shelters. Is That a Waste of Money?”

  1. I hope Councilman Cox understands that the shelter is doing exactly as it was intended, bring public transportation to the forefront of city discourse. Treating the system of shelters like a background element in the urban fabric is in effect pushing the conversation about the southern American stigma regarding public transit to the back of our collective consciousness. Why can’t transit ridership be treated with dignity? I’m disappointed in The Indy for not reaching out for comment.
    Albert McDonald, AIA
    Lead designer of new bus shelters

  2. The point made in the last paragraph should be something council Cox reads over a few times. Majority of these funds are coming from the transit tax district, they cannot be used for things other than transit projects. The matching city funds are would have to go to transit projects as well. Moreover, why not have more shelters AND places for homeless residents to sleep?

    Also, an easy way to ensure there’s a safe place for homeless to live is to approve more dense, multi-family developments across the city. Something that council Cox seems to oppose regularly. Why not work with developers to help the homeless?

    For the shelters themselves, while they are more colorful and eye catching that the typical design, they are also pretty ugly. There could also be a safety concern, as the typical shelter has clear panels on all sides which allow passengers and bus operators to see who is waiting at or approaching the stop.

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