On November 27, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass announced a combined $93.5 million in funding for bus shelters and other climate interventions like cool pavement and street trees. 

In a press release, Bass claims credit for proposing a $30 million public works trust fund loan that will enable the city to finally implement its new bus shelter program.

But there is a disconnect – while the announcement is a major win for combating climate change and protecting Angelenos from the effects of extreme heat, Bass not only did not propose the $30 million loan for bus shelters, she delayed it, despite having the power to fast-track the loan for months. 

Will LA actually get 3,000 new bus shelters?

After over a decade of little investment in bus stop improvements, bus riders should finally get more shelters next year due to the $30 million. Initially, StreetsLA, the agency managing the bus shelter program, planned to expedite the construction of 3,000 shelters over three to five years to coincide with the 2028 Olympics. Currently, however, it’s not clear what the long-term plan is for reaching that ambitious number.

According to LA Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who represents the third council district, LA has only added about 50 new shelters since 2009. But 3,000 new bus shelters and 450 new shade structures are not guaranteed — the actual number of shelters depends upon how much money the city receives both from advertising revenue and other sources, like state and federal grants.

With $30 million in new funding, StreetsLA plans to install a total of 280 new shelters in 2024: 230 will replace existing shelters and 50 will be installed at bus stops with no shelter. In addition, Metro is providing $53 million in Measure M funds to build almost 400 new shelters as part of its North San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor project. That leaves over 2,300 bus shelters with no concrete timeline or source of funding.

Although the city passed RAISE LA in September, a new initiative to put advertising revenue back into building more shelters, $6.05 million in revenue is already committed to the general fund for the 2023-2024 fiscal year — which means that money will not go toward new bus shelters. 

By delaying the $30 million loan (and by extension, funding for the bus shelter program), the city of LA lost out on the projected amount of advertising revenue it would have received in the first year with digital versus static advertising. 

Why was funding delayed?

Last September, LA City Council voted to approve the new bus shelter contract and a $30 million public works trust fund loan to jumpstart building new shelters. In December, the Board of Public Works submitted an Executive Directive No. 3 (ED3) report to the mayor’s office for approval of the loan. First instituted by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2005, the ED3 review process gives the mayor broad authority to approve contracts and budget requests. 

As part of the process, the mayor can ask the office of the City Administrative Officer, a department that vets the financial feasibility of city programs and prepares the budget, to submit a recommendation report. However, this report can be waived by the mayor at any time. Mayor Bass did not waive the report and the CAO waited until after the budget process was complete in June to submit its recommendation, delaying bus shelters for months.

According to emails received through a public records request, by mid-April, Randall Winston, Bass’ deputy mayor of infrastructure, had met with or scheduled to meet with all the major players involved in implementing city bus shelters, including representatives from new contractor Tranzito-Vector, former contractor JCDecaux, StreetsLA, the CAO’s office and the Coalition for a Beautiful Los Angeles, an anti-billboard group that is suing the city of LA to stop the contract.

By early February, city councilmembers and Tranzito-Vector were already trying to push the contract forward in hopes of having new bus shelters by the hottest months of the year.

But bus shelters are not just a crucial piece of transit infrastructure — advertising on bus shelters and other street furniture is a billion dollar industry. With millions of dollars at stake, the needs of bus riders waiting without shade or shelter in three-digit heat or pouring rain can seem like an afterthought.

Internal emails shed some light on the lobbying that took place behind-the-scenes before and after the previous contractor, JCDecaux, a publicly traded company with a market cap of $4.05 billion, lost out to Tranzito-Vector. According to Ryan Jackson, director of public works for Mayor Bass, JCDecaux attempted to paint Tranzito-Vector and CEO Gene Oh as lacking the experience required to effectively implement a bus shelter program.

“BSS [Bureau of Street Services] had over 100 meetings with Council to discuss the program/contract,” wrote Jackson in an email to Winston. “BSS staff shared with me that many of their concerns echoed OutFront/JCDecaux lobbying messages.”

If JCDecaux had succeeded in getting the city of LA to throw out the contract with Tranzito-Vector and initiate a new Request for Proposal process, it could have had the chance to win back a multi-million dollar contract.

What about equity?

According to internal emails and statements in committee meetings, city officials were concerned about the equity of the bus shelter rollout, namely that underserved communities would receive older, refurbished shelters instead of brand new shelters. As shelters went unbuilt, staff from the CAO’s office, the Board of Public Works and the mayor’s office debated equity in a city where less than 25% of bus stops have a bus shelter and bus riders face health risks from extreme heat.

“As a transit user, all you care about is shade,” said Councilmember Nithya Raman, who represents council district 4, during a September public works committee meeting. “You don’t care whether you have a new shelter or old shelter.”

The city’s goal is that 75% of riders in each district will board the bus at a stop with a shelter. As UCLA researcher Madeline Brozen told Next City, this reflects a broader “governance problem” in the city of LA — equity is broken down by 15 council districts. This doesn’t reflect how people travel through LA. Bus riders might live in Boyle Heights or Sylmar but work or attend school in Westwood or the Pacific Palisades. Regardless of where they board the bus, most LA bus riders are low-income and non-white, with a median household income of $18,000.

“Equity, absolutely — although equity is an odd thing with bus shelters because the people who are using those bus shelters, regardless of where they are, are generally folks who are underserved,” said Blumenfield during the committee meeting.

Internal emails show that Bass’ infrastructure team requested in April that StreetsLA submit a memo showing what an equity-focused first-year rollout would look like. After reviewing the memo, staff concluded that the original rollout plan already prioritized equity.

“Am I reading Lance’s STAP memo correctly? My takeaway is that they don’t have to change anything that Council approved in order to have an equity focus,” wrote Jackson in a group chat.

About 90% of the initial 280 shelters will be installed in “equity-focused communities” — neighborhoods with a high concentration of people of color, low-income households and households without a car.

“It may be surprising to some folks, but there are a lot of very economically advantageous locations within equity-focused communities that are actually good for advertising,” Lance Oishi, contract administrator, explained in the September meeting. 

Turns out, the debate over refurbished shelters in underserved neighborhoods may be a moot point. Because of the delay in installing new shelters, StreetsLA no longer plans to install refurbished shelters at stops without a shelter, unless requested by a councilmember.

Trying to get RAISE LA on the agenda

Councilmembers Raman and Blumenfield also struggled to move forward on another source of funding for bus shelters, RAISE LA. In emails reviewed by LA Public Press, Raman and Blumenfield’s staff repeatedly followed up with Councilmember John Lee’s legislative director from February to April, requesting that RAISE LA be put on the public works committee agenda. John Lee, who is currently facing allegations of violations by the city’s ethics commission, is the chair of the public works committee.

“Thank you. Our office is aware of your requests,” responded Erich King.

In response to questions about the delay, Bass spokesperson Clara Karger told LA Public Press in September that the mayor’s office did its “due diligence” in vetting the loan and is “committed to implementing this program effectively and equitably.”

On June 21, over six months after Mayor Bass first received the report from the Board of Public Works requesting the loan, the CAO issued its ED3 report and recommendation.

The completed report is four pages long.

Timeline of Events

  • November 2019: StreetsLA directed to start RFP process for new street furniture program.
  • November 2020: RFP released.
  • February 2021: Four proposals received.
  • May 2022: Board of Public Works approves Tranzito-Vector as new contractor
  • September 2022: New contract passed by LA City Council.
  • December 2022: StreetsLA submits report to CAO for $30 million public works trust fund loan.
  • January 2023: New contract officially begins.
  • May 2023: LADOT unveils La Sombrita.
  • June 2023: CAO finishes ED3 report and sends to Mayor Bass..
  • August 2023: Mayor Bass approves ED3 report
  • September 2023: LA City Council passes RAISE LA and $30 million public works trust fund loan.
  • January 2024: First bus shelters projected.

Maylin Tu is a freelance writer covering transportation, mobility and equity in Los Angeles.