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Few TARC Stops Are Sheltered—and Adding Many More Is Unlikely

With her back turned, Jo Ann Smith couldn't see if the approaching bus was the one she was waiting for.

Her bus would come from the west, but standing at the corner of Fifth Street and Broadway, she positioned herself to the east because on Monday the blustery wind was full of leaves. She didn’t want a face full of fall foliage.

Leaves and the wind, she said, weren't so bad.  The temperature was warm, and when she gets on the bus she could always just brush debris off her sweater and put her disheveled hair back in place.

Other days, however, it can be bad.

“Think about when it gets real cold,” she said.  “When you got sleet and snow coming down and you don’t have anything protecting you.”

What was missing, she said, is a sheltered bus stop. This TARC stop doesn't have one.

Just about 4 percent of some 4,500 TARC stops are sheltered, said Clifford Kuhl, a schedule analyst for TARC.  That means only 200 TARC stops offer some type of shelter from the elements.

Here is a map of all TARC stops, courtesy of TARC.  The symbols are sheltered stops, the orange dots are unsheltered stops.

(For an interactive version of this map, click here.)

“We need that shelter over our heads when we are standing out here,” Smith said.  “When you got one with a shelter it’s more convenient for anybody.”

Kuhl acknowledged the need for “a lot more shelters,” but he said Louisville is unlikely to see a surge in shelter installations.  For starters, the shelters are costly (about $7,000) and TARC’s budget doesn’t have any room to upgrade thousands of bus stops.

“We’re trying to focus almost everything we’ve got just on keeping service on the street,” Kuhl said.

In fact, dwindling resources may soon have some serious impacts on Louisville’s public transportation, TARC director Barry Barker told WFPL earlier this month.

“We really don’t have the money on hand to sustain the level of service we’ve got out there,” Barker said.

Related: Louisville's Public Transit Has Miles To Go, TARC Director Says

And demands from riders persist despite a lack of resources, Kuhl said.

“There’s a lot of demand, a lot of requests for shelters,” he said.

Some requests for shelters come from stops that “aren’t worth it,” which Kuhl said means there aren’t enough riders to warrant a shelter.  Others, he said, come from stops in areas that are prone to vandalism.

Busier stops are at the top of the list for shelters, specifically, stops that have “over 100 boardings per day,” Kuhl said.

But determining which stops are the busiest is tricky.

TARC currently has no automated rider counting system, Kuhl said.  That won’t be coming for a few years.  Random counts are done a few times a month, however, to give officials an idea of ridership, he added.

“We actually have a person on board the bus that has to tally boardings and deboardings at each stop,” Kuhl said.

Standard TARC stops are supplied and maintained by CBS Outdoor through a contract with TARC, Kuhl said.  This means that CBS Outdoor acquires the advertising space that, in turn, funds the shelter.

Kuhl said TARC owns the shelters and gets a commission from the advertisement.

Other stops, like one near Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on University of Louisville’s campus and another near Meijer in Jeffersonville boast amenities like heat and solar-powered lights.  These stops are not funded through TARC or through CBS Outdoor ads, but still serve TARC riders, Kuhl said.

Two more non-TARC funded stops are also in the works.  The construction of these stops, set for Logan and Oak streets and Fourth and Kentucky streets, are being funded through a crowd-source initiative led by several community organizations.

“If we can provide a little bit of shelter—we think that’s a positive step,” said Mark Noll, the membership coordinator for the non-profit group Bicycling For Louisville, one of several groups spearheading the installationof the crowd funded stops.

For Jo Ann Smith, that is a positive step.  She said she's ridden TARC buses as many as four times a day for more than 20 years.

Each day she leaves her home and waits for the bus at a stop that is nothing more than a pole, a sign and a sidewalk.

She waits in the heat, she waits in the cold, and she waits in the rain.

“But I know that somewhere down that line I will make it to one of the ones that have the shelter," she said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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