The subject of my last post was the role of private contractors in the provision of shelters and benches at bus stops throughout the RTD system vis-à-vis RTD’s Transit Amenity Program (TAP). Recently, I took a look at the Rules and Regulations for the Issuance of Revocable Permits for the Transit Amenities at Bus Stops in the Public Right of Way in hopes that I might better understand how Denver works with advertising companies (some of the program’s biggest participants) to deploy, maintain and even remove transit stop amenities regulated through TAP. Mostly, I wanted to get a feel for how the program is set up to advantage the customer and, in turn, further Denver’s bus transit service enhancement goals. There are some good things and, to a much lesser extent, some worrisome things about TAP that’s worth sharing and thinking about in the context of what tools the city has at its disposal to strategically target improvements at bus stops.

The Worrisome

  • The Public Property Occupancy Revocable Permit (PPORP) for a bus stop transit amenity (so that’s benches, kiosks, and bus shelters) is awarded for one to up to five years, depending entirely on what the permittee desires. Given that transit amenities provided through TAP can and may be located at “collector or arterial roads in a residential area” it’s not clear from the rules whether companies or the city have any responsibility to alert patrons when a permit is not renewed or can’t be transferred to another company. For example, failure to renew the PPORP by the annual August deadline results in “all advertising structures listed on the permit shall be removed by the permittee within five (5) business days” after which the city’s Department of Public Works removes not the just advertisements but the structures as well. Though I’ve not seen it happen, it’s deeply concerning that an advertising company’s cash flow troubles could so quickly alter the landscape of transit stop amenities and apparently without any explicit requirement to notify patrons; I hope that the city would swiftly and effectively take on this responsibility.
  • It’s not clear that Denver is doing enough to steer companies applying for a standard TAP permit towards areas most in need of a bus shelter or bench. Take for example the TAP – Dockless Mobility Vehicle Pilot Permit Program, started in Summer 2018, which offers incentives to operators to locate fleets in vulnerable communities, or Opportunity Areas. The program’s webpage also points to a High Transit Activity Areas map, which could be applied to standard TAP permitting to set up “win-wins” both for the city’s aims to support ridership in key areas and advertisers seeking high-volume foot traffic.
Dockless Mobility Opportunity Map, courtesy City and County of Denver

The Good

  • At proposed bus stop locations for a transit amenity, any sidewalk or concrete pad in the public right-of-way (ROW) that is either non-existent or inadequate are the responsibility of permittees to provide in accordance with city standards.
  • Amenities must by inspected, cleaned, serviced and repaired by the permittee at prescribed minimum intervals. (By the way, someone posted a comment to my last DenverUrbanism post describing how difficult it can be for someone to get a response from vendors to follow through on this commitment.)
  • For every four permits, standard TAP program permit holders are on the hook for something called a “bench note”. The city uses these bench notes to respond to significant demand for bus stop amenities such as benches, and U-bike racks. Importantly, these bench notes can and do go unused. Specifically, the regulations say that, “The total number of bench notes used per year will depend upon the number of bus stop bench requests received by Denver Public Works from the public and City council.” I’d like to see the list of features that bench notes can be redeemed for expanded to include landscaping and lighting, which, alongside benches and shelters, can make a huge difference in one’s transit experience.

This analysis remains incomplete without some numbers to illustrate the risks (the ratio of TAP program single year to five-year PPORPs) and potential (the current number of unredeemed bench notes) of the TAP program – numbers that I was unable to track down.

Notwithstanding, I think it’s extremely valuable for transit commuters to know that there’s essentially a bank of bench notes that, with enough expressed demand, the city may be able to tap into to prioritize unmet needs at bus stop locations, and at little to no cost to taxpayers.

If there’s a question about an existing bus stop feature then you should call 720-91-FIX-IT; however, some might be inclined to reach out to the your area’s ROW inspector (find them using this map here) to discuss applicable bus stop maintenance concerns. Requests to Denver Public Works for a particular bus stop bench should be directed to 3-1-1 or PocketGov Denver.

In name only is the TAP program about transit amenities. Making inroads into Denver’s mobility goals requires reframing a bus stop bench or shelter as a basic “must” and not as an amenity for many existing and would-be transit commuters. (I’ve already touched on the negative consequences of not appropriately prioritizing bus transit commuters’ experience in a past DenverUrbanism post here.)

Let’s applaud the city for TAP, but not let it off the hook for taking concrete steps to ensure that private permit holders understand their role in advancing Denver’s plans for greatly improving public transit ridership.