The Future of Transit Center Design

05/04/2017 | Back to News

When asked to write on the future of terminal design, I found the challenge daunting as well as thought provoking. When I am designing, my goal is to design a building that is both functional for and attractive to future generations. To design a building whose function must adapt to a rapidly evolving world, designed with new, smarter technology is even more challenging. A transit center must adapt to an evolving population of travelers, the vehicles that transport them, new fuels, maintenance needs, real-time communication technologies, geographic impacts and more.
I reached out to several transit design experts on my staff and here is what I heard:

What are the biggest challenges in designing a facility?

When designing a transit facility our goal is to design a building that can physically last for 50 years before needing major renovations.  However, anticipating the potential program changes in transit vehicles
and user requirements is a significant challenge for the designer. With the rate of technological advancement, designing 50 years in the future is an almost impossible task.

In addition to technological changes, it is also important to understand that transit riders now want a very personalized experience. Two examples of which are the Heathrow Pod and Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). These driverless vehicles provide an intimate mode of transportation. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is also changing the look of transit, leading to smaller but more frequent transit stations providing a faster, more frequent service for the rider.

These alternate modes of transit are differentiated from the typical fixed route bus system that is currently determining transit facilities. Trying to provide flexibility for all the new future modes will prove to be the biggest challenge in the future. Provided by: Sean Beachy, architect

What design considerations do you find exciting to contemplate?

The design of a future intermodal facility is less about the passenger waiting and more about the passenger experience. I think you will see these facilities become more like an airport with shops, retail, restaurants – places that people want to use as well as it being a multimodal center.

The large, static passenger waiting areas of the past do not serve people well – it needs to be active, vibrant, and useful while still providing waiting areas for transit users.
For example, colleges would not have just a transfer station; it would be a transfer station, a student union, a coffee shop and more.

In the deep inner cities, the station could house government functions providing social services. Provided by: Ron Reekes, southeast regional manager

Transportation Center Design

From an architecture standpoint, the look of the transfer station is what is going to draw in people. For people to choose to ride transit – there must be appeal – aesthetics, amenities, ease of use and helpful technologies. Safety, security, and atmosphere are incredibly important, but ultimately people have to know stops exist where they want to go. Provide by: Jeana Stright, architect

What is happening right now?

The future, in a word, is flexibility. Dealing with the next generation of vehicles and vehicle types. The intermodal facility of tomorrow will accommodate many more modes than we have right now. Intermodals of the future will need to facilitate other modes such as heavy, light and commuter rail, and even high-speed rail, while remaining pedestrian friendly, accommodating significant bicycle use, and rideshare  connectivity. Provided by: David Duchscherer, PE

How will new fueling options affect transit center design?

There is an accelerating trend for electricity to be the prime energy source. The impact on transportation terminals will be hubs for generator power (solar, wind, pavement motion, dynamic thermal change) for on-site consumption and for export to utilities. Potential exists to provide charging for large and small vehicles including fixedroute buses, paratransit vehicles, private cars, bikes and trikes, and commercial vehicles. Provided by: Phil Muse, architect
In addition to electric fueling, hybrid, CNG and ultimately hydrogen fueled buses will certainly factor into the mix. The variety of future fueling possibilities will require more flexibility and foresight in the design of transportation terminals to allow for a mix of fuel usage at the same terminal. Provided by: John Havrilla, director of alternative fueling services

What are some of the trends and technologies you see influencing the future of transit center design?

Generational and social trends will greatly influence the future of transit center design. One of the more intriguing current trends is how the millennial generation prefers to take transit because it is sustainable and elevates their quality of life by increasing their social interaction in person and through technology. Since each generation has its own unique characteristics and expectations, it will be interesting to see what future generations expect in the way of mobility and travel. Keeping in step with those expectations and desires will be key in designing future transit centers they will want to use.

So what does all this mean? The transit center of the future will be a living, social organism that will be technology-based and need to have ultimate flexibility as it grows, evolves, and morphs, much like people do. It will be expected to enhance our quality of life through sustainable principles as transportation systems and vehicles get us to where we need to go. The possibilities are exciting to contemplate.

Written for BusRide Magazine by:

Donald Gray, AIA, LEED AP

You can reach Don at