Heated shelters offer some relief for transit riders

Keeping warm while waiting
St. Paul resident Isaiah McGraw waits for the Green Line under a heat lamp Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015 at the Central Station in downtown St. Paul.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

At the light rail stop at Cedar Avenue and 5th Street in St. Paul earlier this week, most folks waiting for a train gathered inside a heated but still cold waiting area that houses a stairway and elevator to the skyway above the station.

"My toes are a little cold," said Duan Gaines who was among the travelers. "I just got off the bus, but my toes are a little cold."

With temperatures plunging to zero or below lately, more Metro Transit riders likely will head for heated shelters and waiting areas. All 37 of Metro Transit's light rail stations have heated waiting areas, and more than 50 of its 800 or so bus shelters are heated.

Those areas might give some a slight break from frigid temperatures as they wait for a warmer ride on a bus or train. But to hear some riders tell it, when the weather is bad, they don't make that much of difference.

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At the Cedar Avenue stop, some hardy souls waited for the next train on the outside platform. By no accident, some stood under the dual 1600-watt electric heaters deployed in waiting areas.

"I feel a little red heat, just enough to take the chill off your bones," said Elieq Moore of St. Paul. "They could do something a little better than this, though."

Moore had never sought refuge under the heaters until the recent cold snap. Like other riders, he wondered if the heaters could be lowered and the waiting areas enclosed.

The warmth the heaters provide wasn't enough for Darryal Akins, who also waited at the stop.

"They don't work. It's cold," he said. "If I turn my face up, I can get it. But that's it."

Green Line riders
Ashley Cropsey, left, of St. Paul, and Sourav Patel, of Minneapolis, wait under heat lamps for a Green Line train Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015 at Central Station in downtown St. Paul.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

Most light rail shelters here have glass panels to the rear and sides but are open at the front. Passengers can turn on heaters when the temperature is 40 degrees or below, said Howie Padilla, a Metro Transit spokesman.

"In Minnesota, you need some heat," Padilla said. "You need to give folks some comfort."

To be considered for heaters, a stop must have at least 80 passenger boardings per day. But at a price that can run between $10,000 and $60,000, the heaters aren't cheap.

Padilla says a $3.3 million federal grant will fund a big increase in shelter spending. Metro Transit plans to install 150 new shelters, replace up to 100 shelters and upgrade 75 shelters with amenities such as light and heat.

The new and upgraded shelters will primarily be in north and south Minneapolis, St. Paul's East Side, the Frogtown area, the North End and Summit-University neighborhoods, as well as portions of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park.

But the protection they offer riders likely falls short of Fort McMurray in northeastern Alberta, Canada, which may have North America's most protective transit shelters.

Almost all of that city's bus shelters are fully enclosed — and they have doors and heat.

That's critical in a place that can see temperatures long linger at about 40 below.

"Ah, your temperature is sometimes similar to ours," said Tony O'Doherty, the local transit manager for Fort McMurray. "But our winters are lot more longer than you guys experience."

In Fort McMurray, enclosed shelters can cost up to $75,000. They at least provide some protection against the elements and also retain the heat inside. For the short period of time it's on, it makes the shelter up to 40 degrees warmer than standing outside.