Houston Metro working on solar-powered fans at bus stops, with plans to install 50 prototypes
Houston, August 18, 2023
Breathing new life into the ordinary bus stop isn’t as simple as it might sound, but Metro officials are giving it a spin in the hopes of slightly cooling riders down.
A prototype shelter aimed at addressing some of Houston’s unique needs, including solar-paneled fans, could evolve into new structures at many Metropolitan Transit Authority bus stops. Right now, the steel prototype shelter is version one of what is likely to be many iterations of trying to crank air at passengers while they wait for a bus. Changes are already planned, such as better placement of up to three fans, said Chuck Berkshire, Metro’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Conditions vary widely when it comes to where people wait for Metro. In downtown and many areas funded with management districts, bus shelters can be spacious, shady locations with benches. In tree-lined neighborhoods, stops can be shady even if they are uncovered. Along some streets in Denver Harbor and Acres Homes, the bus stop is nothing more than a sign on a stick next to a drainage ditch on the side of the road.
According to Metro, as of June 28, the agency had 8,948 operational stops, of which 3,350 had shelters. As part of its long-range plan, Metro has a goal of adding 400 shelters annually.
Officials predict a slight wait for the fan-focused prototype shelters, too. Numerous factors remain unresolved before they start wafting air for waiting bus passengers. An initial try found that putting the fan in the walls of the shelter high up did not lead to enough airflow, so Metro is remodeling the shelter to have up to three fans mounted in the ceiling, just below the solar panel array. Berkshire said officials are also seeing if they can redesign the shelter to have more surface area made out of metal screen, which provides shade but allows air to pass through.
The completed shelter, ideally, will be entirely powered by the solar panels — which have improved in efficiency over recent years — so that fans, lights and other features operate off either current or stored power within the shelter, and reduce use by relying on light and motion sensors to know when to operate.
The focus will be on getting one shelter designed and built, then modify from there, Berkshire said, for situations where a shelter might need to be smaller to fit along a certain sidewalk segment or have two-seat benches instead of three to accommodate a wheelchair user.
“Modifying, as long as we stay in the basic requirements, is easy once you have that first one,” Berkshire said.
From there, Metro plans to install up to 50 of the new shelters as a test. Exact locations are undetermined, as is when the shelters could be installed as internal testing continues. What’s likely, officials said, is some of the first riders to feel the breeze will be along the 82 Westheimer route, which is Metro’s biggest bus line and coincidentally the transit workhorse of Fletcher's 7th Congressional District.
“I’d love to see as many out there as they can do,” Fletcher said of the new shelters, noting how pleased she has been with Metro bringing the idea to reality -- or close to it.
She called the project indicative of the Houston spirit.
“We see our challenges as opportunities,” Fletcher said. “We are creative and collaborative, and I love how this town works.”
Even before the first fan blade spins, there is interest in exporting the idea to other areas, Zavala said, noting he has already fielded calls from other transit agencies.
That, Fletcher said, made her convinced Metro was on to something.
“I feel a lot of pride about this,” she said, noting Metro deserves credit for actually building the shelter. “It is cool to see an idea come to reality.”Read this article in the Houston Chronicle.