Chicago: Pace Installs Solar-Powered Bus Stops

Thursday, November 27, 2003

With ridership down, Pace has launched a pilot program to ensure that people who want to take its buses are not passed while waiting at a stop.

This month, Pace had 13 solar-powered illuminated bus stops installed along the Sibley Boulevard route in Harvey, Dolton and Calumet City. With a push of a button, people waiting at the new stops can activate a flashing beacon to alert bus drivers to their presence.

The stops, which cost $1,000 each, address the concerns of some Pace riders, according to rider surveys.

" They want to make sure the drivers are seeing them at night," said Blaine Krage, a Pace spokesman.

The stops also put the suburban transit agency amid a growing trend toward passenger comfort tools, said Virginia Miller, a spokeswoman for the American Public Transportation Association in Washington.

For instance, the new bus stops include a separate button that triggers lights to illuminate the stop so people can read while waiting for the bus. The lighting also should enhance security.

"With it getting dark early now, and if you're at a stop where you can have a light turned on for added safety, we think that definitely helps," Krage said.

"It is too soon to gauge the success of the new stops, but the agency plans to survey passengers on the route in winter," Krage said. "If riders like the amenity, Pace may add them along other routes."

The push for the high-tech stops, designed by Carmanah Technologies Inc. of Canada, came after passenger surveys indicated riders were concerned about being passed by buses and others were worried about safety.

The agency also hopes the amenity also could boost ridership, which has been declining because of a sluggish economy and recent fare increases. For the first 10 months of 2003, ridership was down 3.4 percent compared with the same period last year, though officials believe it level out in 2004.

" Conveniences like that help draw people to public transit when you are making it easier for them to ride," Krage said.

Known as i-Stop, the equipment attaches to bus stop poles and includes built-in solar panels to charge batteries that power the lights, which can run for about 200 hours on a 90-minute charge of daylight.

Though Chicago has its share of cloudy days, that should not affect the lights, a Carmanah Technologies executive said.

" Our technology is so efficient, it's really just daylight, not sunlight, hat you need," said Matthew Watson, vice president of corporate development for the Victoria, British Columbia, company.

" If you want challenging weather, try London, England," he said, noting the technology is used there. "We have had no problems there."

Krage said Route 350 Sibley was chosen because it is one of the busier routes in the system and its buses run all day, every day.