January 14, 2016 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 5Comment

There are many things I am thankful for about my job. One of them is being able to use the bathroom whenever (and as often) as I need. I thought about this situation when I’ve heard poultry workers mention the restrictions they face. I’ve also read about the problem for bus drivers and other public transit workers. The Washington Post, for example, has been following the issue involving drivers for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). In a story from 2011, WashPost’s Dana Hedgpeth wrote:

“Some operators say they have had to relieve themselves in a cup or bag at the back of buses or in doorways. Train operators have reportedly used pocket tracks on the rail system as ‘a lavatory’ because they had ‘inadequate time to have bathroom breaks, according to a 2010 report by Metro’s inspector general.”

The WashPost story goes on:

“According to Metro chief spokesman Dan Stessel, there are procedures that allow for bus operators to take bathroom breaks. They are supposed to contact central command and ask permission. Once they receive approval, the operator should stop the bus at ‘the appropriate location, properly secure the bus and notify the passengers on the bus that he/she needs to step off the bus momentarily to a restroom,’ Stessel wrote in an e-mail.”

Last year in a follow-up story it appears the problem still hasn’t been adequately addressed for WMATA employees. This led congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to send a letter to Labor Secretary Tom Perez asking him to look into the matter. (I have a call into delegate Norton’s office asking for an update.)

While WMATA officials seem to be hard harded on the issue, Houston’s transit authority concedes that bus drivers, like most of us, have bladders, too. Dug Begley of the Houston Chronicle explains his city’s program.

“To give bus operators safe, reliable and clean places to take breaks, Metro spends more than $13,000 annually in quarterly payments to businesses. Every three months, the agency pays each business $45.”

“…Payments for so-called comfort stations are common in the transit industry, said Andy Skabowski, Metro’s chief operating officer. They’re also critical to maintaining bus service. A quarterly payment to stores is far cheaper than the alternative: having buses return to a maintenance yard or public place every time the driver goes on break, or building bathrooms in many places across the Houston area, Skabowski said. ‘In your office, you can walk down the hall and there is a bathroom,’ Skabowski said. ‘Well, their office is that bus, and they can’t just walk down the hall.’”

Begley explains further:

“In some cases, those stops can happen at public spaces such as libraries or parks, or Metro transit centers and other facilities. In other spots, a restaurant or convenience store might be the best place, leading Metro to offer a small payment. Paying the businesses, Skabowski said, enables Metro to hold them responsible for the cleanliness and condition of bathrooms.”

“The businesses on Metro’s payment vary from local favorites to national chains. Many fast food establishments are represented, as well as neighborhood-run gas stations. The list includes three McDonald’s restaurants, two coin-operated laundries, a hospital, a college campus and a barber shop.”

…”‘They are all nice, and we talk,’ Cornell Berry, owner of Mr. B’s Barber Shop, said of the Metro drivers who use her northeast Houston business.”

And what do Houston’s bus drivers think about the program? Begley writes:

“After parking his Route 25 bus along Walnut Bend Lane near Westheimer and the Sam Houston Tollway, Leo Orville – a 31-year Metro veteran – makes a familiar walk into a local convenience store to use the bathroom and grab a drink. ‘It’s just part of the shift,’ Orville said. ‘Run in, grab something, get back.’”

The Houston Chronicle’s story includes photos of veteran drivers Leo Orville and Cara Carter. The photos put a smile on my face.

The Amalgamated Transit Union, which has a local that represents WMATA employees, reports

“Congress has now directed the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to investigate transit systems’ bathroom break policies.”

I’m curious to find out more about this congressional ask of DOT. If you have any details, please leave a comment.

Now…I’m off to the bathroom…





5 thoughts on “Tale of two cities: public transit drivers and bathroom breaks

  1. The disrespect that the ruling class has towards the working class is a serious social problem

    No where is this disrespect as evident as in the American public transit industry

  2. Last year the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) bus drivers and maintenance workers went on strike due to inadequate bathroom breaks (both time for and time between availability) and staffing levels. The county kept trying to paint it in economic terms saying they wanted more money. The union constantly denied this and went public to try to end the disinformation. The community rallied around the drivers and set up car pools and special needs transportation for those affected by the strike. The union went out of it’s way to NOT cause hardship of lost revenue during the annual Summerfest and other festivals.
    It’s time all transit workers were treated like human beings!

  3. I know of an Operator here in Seattle who would spread newspapers on the floor of the bus and go number 2. Wrap it up like a fish and throw it in the nearest trash can. I myself peed in my ATU 587 coffee cup in the back of an empty bus in the downtown Seattle Transit tunnel. Only other option would have been to pee in my pants

  4. I drive public transit inn Riverside CA, and on certain routes that access Downtown Riverside, the businesses are very stingy when it comes to restrooms and their usage. I see a lot of “restrooms are for customers only” signs. I ask Management about these issues and am informed that we pay these businesses to be able to use their facilities. If that is the case, then we need to quit paying them. Because too many times, we are late due to looking for a restroom. I even spoke to people recommending that we end that route as far as the Greyhound Station and turn around and head back up University, since the only restroom made available is theirs. (They must understand our pain, being fellow drivers and all). If these businesses want to be stingy, then maybe they should lose bus service. Sucks to have to get to work, just like it sucks to have to piss.

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