Most of the bus stops in Los Angeles lack protection from the elements, exposing daily commuters to the county’s sweltering heat and creating a health hazard for already marginalized Angelenos, according to a new study from UCLA and local advocacy group, Move LA.
The need for more bus shelters is nothing new. It’s been well reported over the years, but the study offers further insight into just how bad the situation has gotten. Of all the bus stops designated by LA Metro, the second largest bus system in the United States, only 26 percent have a bus shelter.
Without proper shade coverage, many people who use public transportation are at an increased risk of heat-related illnesses such as cardiovascular, kidney, and respiratory disorders as temperatures continue to rise and heat waves become more frequent.
“Heat already kills more people than any natural disaster and that’s at the levels that we have now,” Madeline Brozen, the deputy director of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and co-author of the study told LAMag. “It’s going to be getting worse in the future as climate change worsens and LA County continues to get hotter and hotter.”
Aside from protecting riders from rain and snow and howling wind—or providing a place to sit and catch one’s breath—on hot days bus stops with shelters can be as much as 25 to 40 degrees cooler than surrounding outdoor temperatures, the advocacy group Climate Resolve found.
The issue recently received attention from the L.A. City Council in late 2022 when it voted to approve a 10-year contract with Tranzito-Vector to maintain and construct bus shelters across the city, the Los Angeles Times reported. In exchange, the company would receive advertising rights.
“We really are heading towards a major health crisis here,” Eli Lipman, Executive Director of Move LA tells us. “We wanted to make people aware of it so that they can make better choices and decisions and they can say ‘oh, you know, there’s a bus shelter on this corner… if I walk up another 100 feet, I can get to a place that’s safe and cool’.”
Most of L.A.’s bus stops are located in some of the hottest areas of the county, and hits some of the most vulnerable residents hardest, with low-income, people of color making up the majority of ridership. “Coupled with a lack of access to air conditioning for low-income households, they face disproportionate heat risks both indoors and out,” the study found.
Latino and Black neighborhoods are getting the worst of it. “On average, [Latino neighborhoods are] 4 degrees warmer than neighborhoods with low Latino populations,” according to the researchers. “And extreme heat days are warmer in neighborhoods with more Black residents than those with fewer Black residents.”
Government fragmentation is a key factor in the county’s lack of bus shelters, UCLA’s Brozen said. LA Metro might be responsible for the bus route and for placing bus stop signs, but it comes down to local jurisdiction to build the structure. The permitting process in L.A. is tedious, to say the least, according to The Source. it requires eight different departments to sign off before moving ahead.
Once approved, a shelter can be constructed in just two hours. Not all structures, however, will provide constant shade as the sun moves overhead, so the report emphasizes including trees to add extra coverage; just 18 percent of L.A. stops offer tree coverage.
It’s not just a local problem, according to Culver City-based Assemblyman Isaac Bryan, who recently introduced bill would take the issue to the state level. With AB-364, Bryan hopes to establish a statewide database to assess the bus routes.
“The premise behind our bill is to gather that data statewide as well because the phenomenon that we’ve uncovered here in Los Angeles is not unique to our city but it’s something that Caltrans and all departments of transportation should be cognitive of,” he told LAMag.
Bryan agrees with the UCLA study that fragmented governance is a major part of the problem, and he hopes his proposed California database will be a major first step in tackling it.
“Fragmentation is an okay excuse, but it’s not a lasting excuse—it’s not a good enough excuse,” he said. “We’ve got to do better. Governments not talking to each other can’t result in people dying because they’re not bus shelters during the hottest month in world history.”
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