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Capital Metro sets its sights on the sun

Thursday, June 21, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority this summer is waging a two-front offensive on one of the most dreaded enemies of Austin bus riders: the Texas sun.

The agency recently rolled out a pair of demonstration projects aimed at dulling the sun’s oppressive rays while also harnessing its potential for power.

To battle the blistering heat, the agency recently installed at four select stops new shelter prototypes that provide better opportunities for shade.

“We were able to work with our shelter manufacturer and a local contractor to reduce the overall height of the existing shelters, which brings the shade lower to the ground and expands its overall area,” Vice President of Capital Projects Ken Cartwright told the Austin Monitor on Monday. “And we added windscreen material to three sides of the shelters.”

The four prototypes can be found at West Anderson Lane and Northcross Drive, East Eighth and Trinity streets, Pleasant Valley Road and East Riverside Drive, and Guadalupe and West 21st streets.

Cartwright said the agency is collecting public feedback on the shelter prototypes but has put in an order for another 25 to be installed at high-volume stops across the city.

The agency is also exploring the possibility of modifying existing MetroRapid shelters. While the conventional shelters only cost a few thousand dollars to procure and install, the MetroRapid facilities run as high as $150,000. Cartwright said Capital Metro is working with the original designer of the shelters, architectural firm McKinney York, but does not yet have an estimated price tag for the modifications.

“When we fabricate a prototype, we will be working with a contractor to figure out how much those cost,” he said. “Typically, a prototype is a little bit more expensive than the final version, but here in the next couple of months, we should have more information on that.”

Meanwhile, in a separate pilot project, the agency is putting the sun to work. At each of the new prototype shelters, Capital Metro has also installed solar-powered dynamic messaging signs that display real-time arrival information.

The displays are similar to those built into the MetroRapid shelters but come in at a fraction of the cost.

“It’s so much easier to install because you don’t have to do excavation to run power connections,” Chief Information Officer Joe Iannello told the Monitor. “And the cost of the energy is zero.”

Iannello said he was surprised at the lifetime of the system’s battery.

“We could go through a week with clouds and no sun and that sign will still continue to operate,” he said.

The signs, which are mounted on poles affixed to the sidewalk, also provide timed audio announcements of arrival information. That feature can also be accessed through motion-detection sensors by passengers standing in front of the display.

Ianello said the pilot will run for six months, after which the agency could install solar-powered displays at other stops across the city.

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