Monday, January 27, 2014

Spending Disgrace: The $1 Million Bus Stop in Arlington Virginia

© Arlington Transit CC-BY-SA
Tipped off from a recent report of government misspending from The Heritage Foundation, a local bus stop in Arlington Virginia that was built last year in the southern part of town has now gained national attention. Last spring, this single bus stop catering to passengers headed toward Washington D.C. which is located at the southeast corner of Columbia Pike and Walter Reed underwent a massive upgrade that cost local, state and federal taxpayers $1 million. Let's get this straight. The $1 million bus stop was not a transit center, not a transfer hub, not a bus rapid transit station. This is a regular curbside stop with so-called heaters, weather-resistant shelter and a screen quoting live arrival times for buses. To be fair, numerous bus riders use this stop and having benches, a shelter and a live ticker showing what time the next bus is due are all certainly feasible for such stops. Those have already been proven to be desirable. Columbia Pike is also a major corridor linking south Arlington to the Pentagon and the D.C. area. However, that's no excuse to spend seven figures on a bus stop.

According to local reports and interviews the amenities are fail. The shelter provides little protection against the weather. The bus stop heaters--installed in the pavement--do not keep commuters warm or dry. The only amenity that riders generally liked was the arrival time screen. However, predictive software that tracks transit buses and real-time arrival time screen technology have matured to the point where installing such amenities combined with benches, heaters and a shelter won't cost $1 million per bus stop. According to local sources, 80% of the funding for this boondoggle came from the federal government and the State of Virginia. Through federal taxes, we the folks in the Inland Empire paid in part for this madness.

Cost Efficient: Standard ceiling heaters for a Chicago transit station.
Photo: Chicago Transit Authority
It gets worse. The local government had proposals to build more of these "Super Stops." One would think that with the whopping price tag and ill-functioning amenities, officials would stop this chaos immediately. Unfortunately, the government waste doesn't end there. According to reports, officials are spending even more money running an assessment that includes a public outreach to determine whether it would be feasible to build the remaining upgraded bus stops. We all know that standard amenities for popular bus stops like benches, shelters, ceiling heaters and arrival time screens don't add up to $1 million per bus stop. Why do we need to spend more money and resources assessing this situation? Get the infrastructure costs down to the market rates. That's it.

How does all this relate to the Inland Empire? Our local transit agencies and cities should use this as a big fiscal lesson when it comes to building and maintaining individual high-ridership bus stops and small 1-3 bus bay transfer hubs. Incorporate any new ideas for amenities into public transit infrastructure like heaters under the sidewalk after it has been proven to efficiently work beyond reasonable doubt by the private sector. That's how "Super Stops" can be made more affordable.

Finally, if you're happening to be touring Washington D.C., you might as well include a visit and enjoy this glorified bus stop at Columbia Pike and Walter Reed because we the people paid the $1 million for this bus stop.

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