The Strawberry Mansion bus shelter features two solar panels, which power the overhead lights and the backlit advertisements

Updated 5:56 p.m.

SEPTA bus stops are in the middle of a makeover.

Last week, officials from the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems installed Philly’s first ever solar-powered bus shelter. The brand new structure went up at 29th and Ridge, where there was previously no shelter at all.

The move toward solar is one of many changes to the structures that meet bus riders. In 2015, OTIS announced that all 300 of the city’s existing bus shelters were set to be replaced with new ones. On top of that, the city would install 300 additional shelters throughout Philadelphia.

That’s 600 total bus shelters in the city, all in accordance with the new, sleek design — a rectangular structure with advertisements on the walls and a glass ceiling. The old ones were either green and rectangular or dome-shaped.

If it works well, officials say they’ll incorporate solar power elsewhere. Solar energy has been proven more environmentally sustainable, conserving resources and reducing the costs associated with electricity.

Installation of each of the solar shelters costs the city about $3,000 — less expensive than a shelter hardwired with electricity.

By the end of the summer, OTIS will install two more pilots at Oregon Avenue near 20th Street, and on Cottman Avenue near Bustleton.

“All the stars aligned” for the shelter at 29th and Ridge, said Angie Dixon, director of planning for OTIS. The stop has decent ridership — an estimated 200 people per day — and the rollout fell in line with a neighborhood improvement project at the exact same intersection.

Run by Council President Darrell Clarke’s office, last week’s revamp of 29th and Ridge included a new mural honoring the late police Sgt. Robert Wilson III.

Philly’s first ever solar-powered bus shelter at 29th and Ridge Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

So what could go wrong? Turns out, plenty.

“This is definitely a pilot, because we still need to see how well it functions,” Dixon said. “We were a little quiet about it to make sure installation went well.”

Implementing solar power is complicated. It doesn’t work in places like Center City, where buildings are so tall they block the sunlight. It doesn’t work on digitized bus shelters — the electronic ones that flip through different advertisements on the screen — but rather the ones with backlit poster advertisements.

Oh yeah, and the lights on these bus shelters might not work at all in the winter, Dixon said, when snow has the potential to block the panels from receiving any sunlight. In that case, the overhead lights on the shelter could go out entirely, leaving riders in the dark.

“We want to make sure from dusk to dawn that those are consistently lit,” Dixon said. “That’s our test.”

Philly’s first ever solar-powered bus shelter at 29th and Ridge Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

The test of the three pilot sites will come to an end in the spring of 2019, Dixon said, and then OTIS will determine whether they’d like to install more of the solar shelters in Philly.

“We’ll see how they’re performing and make decisions around if we’re going to roll it out,” Dixon said.

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...