RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Less than 6% of the 1,646 GRTC bus stops in the greater Richmond area have shelters for the average 8.13 million riders the transit system sees each year, according to the June 2021 infrastructure inventory, a number nonprofit RVA Rapid Transit is working to improve.
According to GRTC’s website, the transit system is continuing to install new infrastructure throughout its network in 2021, which is reportedly part of the largest effort in the company’s history outside of basic bus stop signs to provide better stop-level transit features for riders.
“We’re dedicated to educating and advocating for frequent and far-reaching public transportation in the Richmond region,” said Faith Walker, RVA Rapid Transit Director of Community Engagement. “We’re helping enhance our public transportation system and make it even easier for people to get around everyday life, and so we definitely have a direct connection and relationship with GRTC to make that happen.”
Of the more than 1,600 GRTC bus stops in the area, approximately 20% have benches. According to the transit system’s website, bus stops with an average of 20 daily boardings are considered for a bench. Stops with an average of 15 daily boardings are considered for a trash can. All bus stops with benches or shelters automatically qualify for a trash can.
“That’s an alarming number,” Walker said. “That’s a huge gap and that’s a huge problem.”
Uzella Thomas lives in Richmond’s southside. She catches the 1B. The Hull at Southside Plaza bus stop has a bench, but no shelter. The nearby stop at Plaza and Belt only has a trash can, while the Plaza and Southside Community Service Center does have a shelter.
“A lot of us older people with canes and stuff like that, if we had a shelter, we could have somewhere to sit while we’re waiting on the bus and stuff,” she said. “As hot as it’s getting now, we need to have some kind of shelter to keep us from out of the sun for as long as it takes the bus to come.”
Jeffrey Roseman is another frequent rider. He said that he would at least like to see a bench at every stop.
“At least a place to sit,” he said.
But ideally, he wants there to be more shelters.
“I would take at least two sides and have a screen, so your little bit of air circulation in,” Roseman said. “You’re always covered with glass or plastic, and in the winter, cut down on wind.”
According to GRTC’s website, several new shelters have already been installed at the transit system’s bus stops in 2021, with more on the way.
“Riders, this is their mode of transportation for work,” Walker said. “A lot of these riders are essential workers, as we found out during the pandemic, as ridership still was present and prevalent, those were the people who go into work.”
In fact, GRTC reported that there were 7.4 million riders during fiscal year 2018, which runs from July 1 to June 30. In 2019, that jumped to 8.6 million. The following year, during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, there were still 8.6 million people who rode GRTC buses. Through May 2021, the transit system has already seen 7.1 million riders.
“A lot of people worked from home, but people who are actually catching the bus in the middle of a pandemic are probably going to be an essential worker, and if an essential worker has a job where they’re required to have a uniform or an attire, if they’re standing in front of a bus stop or at a bus stop and they’re sweating, that may affect their appearance,” Walker said. “If they’re at a bus stop and it’s raining, as you can imagine, they’re getting to work soaking wet. So their appearance, the way they present themselves at work, can play a key factor in them keeping their job, but also looking appropriate for work.”
Walker said that GRTC riders who do have a shelter or bench at the stops they frequent have expressed relief and appreciation. She said that shelters and benches also provide safety to riders that a simple bus stop sign does not.
“Nobody wants to wait at a bus stop at 95 degrees, but if I know that there’s a shelter, if I know they have some coverage, if I have my children with me, I know that we can get to our next destination safely, but also more comfortable,” Walker said. “We believe that people should have dignified places to wait for the bus and that add to their dignity when they’re waiting for their ride.”
Walker said that part of that dignity also comes from keeping bus stops free of graffiti and litter. For information on how to support such efforts through volunteerism, click here.