Barry Saunders

August 17, 2014

Saunders: Cheaper bus shelters can fill the bill

Ray Tucker has built two benches and placed them at bus stops near his neighborhood, at a fraction of the $10,000 Raleigh says it takes to build one.

Ten thousand dollars!

Many of you were stunned last week upon learning right here that the Triangle Transit Authority estimates that each of those aesthetically unexceptional shelters with benches at Triangle bus stops costs that much.

For that much money, one caller said, the TTA could hire somebody to hold umbrellas over riders’ heads until the bus came. Another said it could build shelters made of dollar bills to shelter people from wind, rain and sun.

Perhaps, but that cost is one reason given by the transit authority for why there are so few shelters and benches and why so many bus riders have to stand in the wind, rain and sun while waiting to hop on the bus. (Notice this time I didn’t say “Gus”.)

You know who was more surprised than anyone by the cost?

Ray Tucker. That’s because Tucker has built two benches and placed them at bus stops near his neighborhood.

He estimated that each one cost him “not much: I’m going to say less than $10 because I use scrap lumber.”

Of course, had he gone to the store and purchased treated wood, the cost would have soared.

To about $20, he estimated.

He said he also uses discarded pallets from a nearby grocery store where he has also placed a bench. “I don’t expect it to last long, but it’s so cheap, if it breaks down I’ll just build another one.”

Each one, he said, has so far lasted more than two years.

What on earth, I asked, possessed him to go do this?

Seeing people sitting or standing on earth, that’s what.

“I felt sorry for people sitting on rocks and ... having to stand in the heat, and I said to myself, ‘At least they can sit down,’ ” Tucker told me.

“I build things around the house here and I have scrap lumber left over. Both places were places I just picked out and decided to place benches there,” he said.

Tucker, 70, is a retired soil scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He said he has put down pinestraw – “so people don’t have to stand in mud when it rains” – and he mows the area around one of the stops. He has also put out a trash can.

Some riders, incomprehensibly, ignore the can and throw their trash onto the ground. That means Tucker has to go out a couple of times a month, at least, with a can and pick up their trash.

Listen up, straphangers: If this dude is considerate enough to build a bench for you to sit on, the least you can do is be conscientious enough to put your trash in the trash can.

“I live in this neighborhood,” Tucker said, “and I want people to have some halfway decent place” to wait on a bus.

“But ...” he said, his voice trailing off.

He didn’t finish his “but,” but I will finish mine: But y’all might find your butts sitting on a rock again if you keep throwing your trash on the ground in the man’s neighborhood.

Tucker said he got permission from a neighbor to place one of his benches on his property. “The first bench I built – somebody stole it,” he said. “I built another one and put steel spikes in the ground and tamped it down.”

Did Tucker go to the city and seek permission before building and placing the benches, I asked?

“I didn’t say anything to the city,” he said. “I didn’t see any need for it, because it’s our neighborhood. ... What happens with the city is you get bogged down in all kinds of details, and I was just putting up a place for people to sit down.”

That’s why I’m reticent about listing precisely where the benches are, lest some officious transit official go toss them on the trash pile because they don’t meet DOT standards or are not, shall we say, bona fide benches.

Chill, homes, John Talmadge said in essence. That’s not going to happen.

Talmadge, director of regional services development for TTA, said, “The person or organization could communicate directly with the private property owner and work out an arrangement” to place a bench next to a bus stop. “Then, we’re not involved and the city is not involved and that would be fine. ... There are few government agencies that have anybody going around identifying rogue benches that need to be removed.

“I can’t advocate that,” he said – with a laugh – of people placing benches on private property, “but let’s just say that that works.”

Supposing, I asked Talmadge, some altruistic Scout troop wanted to build and donate some benches. Would TTA accept them?

Indeed it would, Talmadge said. But ...

“To install them,” he said, “we have to go through the permitting process, which can take a fair bit of time.”

What’s “a fair bit of time?” I asked.

“It can take a year,” he said.

Looks like Tucker had the right idea, doesn’t it?

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