Here's What LA's Proposed New 'High-Tech' Bus Shelters Will Include

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
People standing at a Tranzito bus stop hub at the Temple & Main Bus stop.
Courtesy of Tranzito-Vector

What’s the big deal about bus shelters?

The unassuming pieces of street furniture took center stage at a joint meeting of the Los Angeles City Council’s Public Works and Budget and Finance committees Wednesday. At issue: new, expanded high-tech features, digital ads and an accelerated schedule for building bus shelters that have been thwarted over the last 20 years by what some advocates consider excessive NIMBYism.

In the end, the joint committee approved a new Sidewalk and Transit Amenities Program (STAP). The program will grant a new contract — meant to add 3,000 new bus shelters to the city’s 8,000-plus bus stops over the next 10 years — and has sparked both public backlash and support. It now moves to the full City Council for a vote.

In May, the Board of Public Works selected Tranzito-Vector as the new private partner for the STAP. The company is a joint venture between Tranzito, a Bay Area micromobility startup, and Vector, an outdoor advertising company.

If the program is approved, the new shelters will have high-tech features like e-paper displays, phone charging, digital lockers and even e-scooter docks. But the main point of contention for opponents to the contract is the addition of digital ads.

While the city says that the new ads will bring significant funds to the city — up to $400 million over 10 years (with $90 million guaranteed) — opponents say that the ads will blight city streets and distract drivers. Some advocates for the new contract argue that concern over digital advertising is a red herring from people who don’t use public transportation and are not concerned for bus riders.

Contrary to popular belief, L.A. County’s transit agency, Metro, does not control where bus shelters are placed. Rather, that responsibility falls on representatives from each individual council district.

People standing at a Tranzito bus stop hub at the Temple & Main Bus stop. Transit advocates urge L.A. for renovated bus stops. Courtesy of Tranzito-Vector

Transit advocates are urging the city to adopt this new contract to provide shade and shelter for bus riders as the city gets hotter year over year. The original contract was meant to bring 150 public toilets to serve L.A.’s unhoused residents. But in a subsequent backlash from Angelenos who didn’t want public toilets in their neighborhoods, the city implemented a 16-step permitting process that, critics argue, has led L.A.’s previous bus shelter program to fail spectacularly.

As part of a 20-year contract with private partner Outfront/JCDecaux, the city was meant to add 1,285 bus shelters to its streets by 2021. However, only about 660 bus shelters were ever installed. Of the 150 toilets included in the original contract, only 14 were ever built. Each new bus shelter in a City Council district requires sign-off from that council member — and there’s no enforced deadline to respond to requests. That’s led to hundreds of bus shelters remaining in limbo.

Historically, the city has used its partnership with Outfront/JCDecaux to earn money from advertising revenue, with 50% going to the general fund and 50% split between the 15 council districts. In exchange for installing and maintaining public toilets and transit shelters and a share of advertising revenue, Outfront/JCDecaux is the only entity that has the right to place advertising in the public right of way. While the existing contract was meant to earn the city $150 million, it only made a little over half of that over 20 years.

According to StreetsLA, the agency in charge of implementing the contract, the new program will only require two approvals in an effort to fast-track the siting and installation of new bus shelters over the next five years. The city also plans to invest its own money in exchange for a higher share of the advertising revenue (60.5% versus 20%) and greater control over street furniture assets.

After over an hour of public comments evenly split between those opposing the contract and those supporting it and over two hours of discussion, the members of the Public Works and Budget and Finance Committees voted to advance the contract with Councilmember Curren Price the sole “No” vote.

Budget and Finance Committee Chair and Councilmember Paul Krekorian said that it’s “not right” that bus riders have to wait in the heat for 30 to 45 minutes without shade.

“If we ever have any hope of encouraging an expansion of ridership among those who are not necessarily transit dependent, we certainly will not be able to do so without investing in this kind of shelter and infrastructure.”

If approved by the City Council, the new contract will start in January 2023.

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Why Pierced Media Is Betting on Creators To Be The Next Generation of Podcast Stars

Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a freelance reporter with dot.LA. They previously worked at Protocol writing the Source Code newsletter and at the L.A. Business Journal covering tech and aerospace. They can be reached at
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NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.

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Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

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