New bus shelter plans shelved, contract to be scaled down

Philadelphians will have to wait under the city’s aging bus shelters for at least a few more years, as plans to replace the structures collapsed last week.

The city had issued a request for proposals in March for a 20-year street furniture contract that would have provided Philadelphians with a new set of bus shelters. The program would have increased the number of shelters in neighborhoods and introduced a pilot program to provide real-time transit information under the canopies.

Those hopes were dashed when the city failed to receive a responsive bid to the RFP, officials say. Of the five street furniture companies that had expressed interest, only two — Titan Outdoor and CBS Outdoor, the latter which holds the current contract — submitted bids.

Those bids were nonresponsive in several critical areas, according to Andrew Stober, director of strategic initiatives at the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities.

Neither company provided street furniture designs, and they wanted to maintain the current network of bus shelters for five or six years before replacing them. One did not provide information on projected revenue from the shelters.

Rather than proceeding with a contract under those conditions, Stober said the city would instead issue an RFP for a scaled-down contract, which would provide for the maintenance of the current bus shelter network. Officials say it may be signed by the end of the year.

Stober blamed the poor economy on the contract’s failure. Companies pay cities for the right to install and manage bus shelters and other street furniture — like information kiosks and bike racks — and then make money off of advertising on the furniture. With the ad market in bad shape, Stober said it appeared the companies were leery of making a long-term commitment to both installing and maintaining new bus shelters and paying the city a steady amount of money over 20 years.

Though the new RFP is still being drawn up, Stober said it would probably take the form of a one-year contract with up to three or four optional renewals. He said the city was hoping to re-bid the contract in about two years.

Stober said the scaled-back contract would replace some of the most damaged shelters and would allow the city to wait until the ad market recovers before issuing another street furniture RFP.

Both Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and utilities, and interest groups like the Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight were looking forward to the new contract because of the potential to build in stronger maintenance requirements with the street furniture vendor.

CBS has been criticized for not doing enough to maintain and clean existing bus shelters, and Stober said the reduced contract would include stronger maintenance provisions.

The city also hopes to get “somewhat better than” the $500,000 or so in annual revenue it’s taking in from the current contract, Stober said. The now-shelved 20-year contract was supposed to bring in significantly more than that.

At the same time, Stober said not to expect anything like the $100 million contract Washington, D.C., signed for its street furniture contract a few years ago.

Not only has the economic bubble since popped, but Philadelphia has a less lucrative street furniture market than other big cities.

While Center City gets plenty of pedestrian traffic — an important component in determining ad revenue — the city only has one high-end shopping district. And Walnut Street doesn’t compare to New York’s Fifth Avenue or Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, where high-end retailers like Gucci advertise on bus shelters, driving up the value of those contracts.

Philadelphia, as the country’s poorest large city, isn’t in that position, Stober said.

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