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Washrooms on the system

Public toilet sign

Do you want to see more washrooms on or near the system?

Where are the washrooms on the system?

That’s a good question. If you’re taking the SeaBus or West Coast Express, then washrooms are available in the fare paid zone or the trains themselves. As for SkyTrain and bus loops, the simple answer is there aren’t any washrooms for “official” public use.

From time to time, parents who need to change their children’s diapers, the elderly or people with disabilities can ask an attendant to use the staff facilities. But this limited access to washrooms isn’t ideal since an attendant needs to wait outside while the washroom is in use. This takes staff away from other duties including attending to potential emergencies.

Why aren’t there more washrooms on the system?

The conversation of adding washrooms has been one TransLink has had in the past both internally and with the municipalities TransLink services. To date, there are a few public washrooms near SkyTrain stations like the automated washroom near the Main Street SkyTrain station operated by the City of Vancouver.

The public toilet outside of the Main Street SkyTrain Station

The automated public toilet outside of the Main Street SkyTrain Station

Then there’s security. We all would like to use washrooms that are safe. There’s also the issue of vandalism and washrooms being used for illegal or inappropriate activity. This could mean adding security personnel and/or security mechanisms.

Of course, the addition of any washrooms to the system would come with a significant cost. TransLink’s current funding doesn’t cover additional washrooms, and the Moving Forward Supplemental Plan, which Metro Vancouver mayors will be voting on October 7th, doesn’t include the cost of adding washrooms either. Money to pay for washrooms would, therefore, need to be found elsewhere.

Are there washrooms on other transit systems?

Transportation agencies tackle the washroom question differently. TransLink’s Public Information Officer, Drew Snider, put together some numbers that help to compare the system in Metro Vancouver to other systems in North America and beyond.

Portland doesn’t provide public restrooms and neither does Calgary. Edmonton has restrooms at eight of its 15 LRT stations,  four out of 25 exchanges and plans to include restrooms to future transit exchanges and LRT stations. Toronto has 10 washrooms in a total of 69 stations. Paris has washrooms in 37 of its 370 Métro stations. There’s no direct surveillance for those washrooms, but they are located in stations where rail personnel are usually present and there are video cameras working in the area.

Of note is that where systems have a large number of station restrooms, they’re almost always heavy-rail commuter systems, serving long-distance customers.

The number of washrooms found in other transit systems

The number of washrooms found in other transit systems

What to do about washrooms on the system?

That’s the big question! It’s hard to refute the benefits of having washrooms on or near the transit system. After all, nature doesn’t always call when we want it to. As pointed out in The Globe and Mail, access to washrooms is “no joke”, so it’s important to have the discussion.

There’s also the issue of priorities. Are adding washrooms more important than maintaining and improving the system to keep up with demand?

I’m curious what Buzzer readers think about the issue. Is adding more washrooms to the system important to you? If so, how do you think they should be implemented, and by whom?


43 Comments

  • By gus, September 16, 2011 @ 10:32 am

    I don’t think there should be washrooms – frankly, the homeless would move in, and heroin addicts would use them to shoot up. The majority of SkyTrain riders want nothing to do with either of those two things, so the facilities would then be rendered useless for their intended purpose. Honestly, if I *desperately* need to use the facilities, I’d rather hop off the train, go find a private bush somewhere, then hop back on. It would be preferable to using a washroom at the station that would likely reek of urine/etc and be riddled with discarded syringes.

  • By RT, September 16, 2011 @ 11:19 am

    Quick check of stations/facilities.

    Waterfront – Washrooms
    Burrard – Bentall Center
    Granville – tons of stuff
    Statium – International Mall
    Science World – washroom / train station
    broadway – safeway
    nanaimo – nothing
    29th – nothing
    joyce – nothing
    patterson – nothing
    metrotown – mall
    royal oak – nothing
    edmonds – nothing
    22nd – nothing
    new west – nothing / some restaurants
    columbia – mall/building
    scott road – nothing
    gateway – nothing (retail shops)
    surrey central – mall

    So about 50% have facilities close (within 10am-9pm hours)

    Millenium line is about the same ratio, with brentwood and lougheed malls.

    Canada line runs a little lower, but not by much.

  • By Sheba, September 16, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

    Being female using a private bush isn’t going to work very well… Also being someone with health problems who needs more than average access to a washroom I wish they were at the stations. I do agree that there needs to be some kind of control over who has access to them.

    As much as I like that there is nearby access at some stations, that’s not always an option for me. Also if you look at the list above, once you get outside of downtown Van there really aren’t many nearby washrooms.

    So my wish would be that washrooms get added inside some of the stations after faregates are in place – that should help to limit who uses them. Also I would hope that washrooms are added to stations outside of Van, where there’s less likely to be any nearby.

  • By JKKT, September 16, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

    I do not support public transit washrooms unless, they are pay per use; 25cents. Washrooms, are simply everywhere, there are probably more washrooms in metro vancouver than people. Washrooms don’t come cheap, they require maintaining, security, land, water, electricity, and it all adds up to too expensive for transit. Transit’s role is to get you to your destination. So, “go before you go”.

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, September 16, 2011 @ 6:49 pm

    While I respect Sheba’s need for a washroom, I can’t support the idea of transit funding something like this. Sheba, if there were no transit, then how would you use the toilet while on route? Perhaps you could let us know, and then perhaps we modify the idea to not require the transit company.

    The pay per use idea is interesting. Maybe they should have a trial run of letting a private business set up in the “lobbies” of the stations. Coffee shops are allowed to set up, and I don’t know of any complaints, so I see no problem here.

    Honestly, I don’t understand why Translink keeps on bringing up new ideas, while other suggestions seem ignored. Yeah, I know; the planners looked at my suggestions for a route realignment and tucked the suggestion in a folder. Thanks, but if Translink doesn’t have time to use an idea that benefits a crowded corridor, then where do they find time for these ideas? It baffles me that they would even spend a moment on an idea that they have no funding for. If they can get funding, then use it for increased frequency. Please.

  • By Alan, September 16, 2011 @ 10:06 pm

    Since we are installing turnstiles, just put the washrooms behind the turnstiles then there won’t be any security issues.

  • By Sheba, September 17, 2011 @ 12:11 am

    @Eugene: Before I had the annual bus pass, I simply did not get out very much. Somehow I doubt everyone staying in equals “problem solved.” While cost efficient, I also doubt the cities are going to start planting ‘urinal bushes’ near the stations ;)

    Did you see the reply I posted about how to maybe get them to take notice of suggestions (on Sept service changes & optimization). We really do need to harp at more than just TransLink to have our voices heard.

    @Alan: Exactly what I was saying about the faregates. It won’t get rid of all the security problems but it would limit them.

  • By Bob, September 17, 2011 @ 1:40 am

    In response to Alan: It’s not just about the washrooms, it’s the cost of piping, building the washroom facility, then setting aside money every year to manage and maintain the washrooms.

    The homeless might jump the turnstiles and stay in the washrooms. It’s not like they have anything to lose by getting caught. You can fine the homeless, but it’s not like they have the money to pay for the fines anyways.

  • By Sean, September 17, 2011 @ 11:44 am

    I assume the metro systems with washrooms can supply some idea of the cost of maintaining them. I’d like to see washrooms, at least at some of the key stations, but we really need some idea of the capital and operational costs to make an informed decision.

    In the meantime, a list of nearby facilities such as the one posted by RT goes a long way toward solving the problem, as long as the owners of the referenced facilities are on board.

  • By Dan, September 17, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

    @Eugene: I like your idea of allowing private firms the ability to install pay-per-use washroom facilities. Unfortunately though, it would only work in a station like Waterfront or Main Street’s Pacific Central station, and both of those already have free-use facilities. While I’ve never used the washrooms at Waterfront, I have used the ones in Pacific Central, and they aren’t the cleanest facilities – I would prefer not to use them,

    An example of a private contractor providing pay-per-use washrooms is McClean’s in Germany. They serve many larger intercity railway stations in Deutsche Bahn’s rail network. If I recall, they charge 0.80€ to use the urinal and 1.50€ to use the toilet. Each toilet is completely enclosed from top to bottom and is cleaned by a human being after each use. There is a human attendant at every facility who also sells toiletries and shines shoes – for an additional fee, of course. Many locations also offer showers, though I can’t recall the fee for using them.

    Again, McClean’s is only located at main railway stations in larger cities, such as Frankfurt Main Hbf., Berlin Hbf., Dortmund Hbf., etc.). Vancouver’s only real intercity rail facilities are the Main Street Pacific Central Station (VIA and Amtrak) and Waterfront Station (West Coast Express), and, as I mentioned before, they already have free-use washrooms.

    A business solution such as McClean’s wouldn’t work for any of the other SkyTrain stations given the fact that there isn’t enough demand to utilise them – if you aren’t on a longer trip, you’d be less likely to pay and more likely to hold it for a bit until you get to work five or ten minutes later, or opt instead to pay for a coffee at a Starbucks, as people do at all of the other stations in Germany that don’t have McClean’s locations.

  • By Mel, September 17, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

    I think that bilaws should be passed demanding that businesses within intersection distance of a SkyTrain station not be allowed to limit washroom use to paying customers only. The problem with washrooms in Rapid Transit stations, much like we’ve seen with the SeaBus, is maintaining them, santiation issues, and not to mention, the cost of upgrading the stations in order to put washrooms in the first place.

    As it stands though, we have real problem in this city with limited washroom access due to restauraunt or personal business policies. When one has to go, they have to go, they don’t necessarily want to buy a new dress or a book in order to have the right to use facilities when nature calls!

  • By Reva, September 17, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

    Put the washrooms behind the Fare Paid Zones, and only allow the doors to unlock if the user scans a valid ticket in a special scanner. Like sticking your bank card in the door to gain access to the ATM area of a bank.

  • By Sheba, September 17, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

    To quote above there are “staff facilities” – so there’s already a washroom in the stations. Adding in one more sink and toilet for a public washroom wouldn’t be that hard to do, and they already need to upgrade the Expo line stations.

    That’s a great idea about scanning a ticket Reva. They’re already putting in scanners for the faregates/compass card, so adding in one for the washroom wouldn’t be difficult.

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, September 17, 2011 @ 10:58 pm

    @Sheba

    I think that I did see your response, but did not even realize that I did not understand what you were saying. I get it now, though. Thanks!

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, September 17, 2011 @ 11:05 pm

    Regarding the local businesses being forced to allow us to use the washroom: if that is the case, then people should be required to pay at least a certain amount. Perhaps $.25?

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, September 18, 2011 @ 12:21 am

    All this discussion reminded me of a discussion that I read, regarding homelessness. To maintain a clean life, you could buy a gym membership to give you the opportunity to shower and brush your teeth each day. To have a bit of protection from the wind and rain, you could just live in your car. It wouldn’t be the best of solutions, but it would prevent the worst case scenario from happening. It would also be affordable for most people, and it would keep costs low.

    I think that similar ideas could incorporated into our discussion. Perhaps Translink could start off by encouraging gyms to set up in or adjacent to the stations. The cities would need to cooperate as well. The gyms would also be encouraged to offer low budget memberships to allow the use of the washrooms. That alone would help a lot of people. The extra costs for those particular businesses would be very minimal, since they already have the infrastructure. They already have an onsite janitor, and they already have toilets.

    In this situation, the entire cost would be between the individual and the businesses.

    I bet we could also learn from gas stations. I am not sure how they cover those costs, but they could probably offer some advice.

    1 thing that I definitely want to discourage is requiring small businesses to open up their washrooms, because maintaining the washroom for a small business is a real nuisance. Imagine how you’d feel if you had to open up your washroom in your home, and if you had to clean it. Remember that you’d have to check in on it several times per day to ensure that the washroom is still clean.

    Sheba, what would you think about individuals paying for their own usage?

  • By Bill Kinkaid, September 18, 2011 @ 9:42 am

    Regarding RT’s list: Malls and businesses keep their own hours, and the malls are all closed after 9pm (Bentall closes 4pm on Saturdays and Royal isn’t much better)

    Waterfront just has washrooms in the Seabus terminal, but they’re also in the neighbouring 200 Burrard concourse as well as Canada Place.

    That being said, you could add

    Stadium – Costco
    29th – there is a fieldhouse in the park just west of the station. Or Renfrew Rec Centre and library though that’s a bit of a hoof.
    Joyce – Collingwood Neighbourhood House maybe
    Patterson – Central Park washrooms a couple of blocks south
    New West – Salvation Army (not open evenings and Sundays) or The Quay if it’s still open to the public
    Columbia – Army & Navy store
    Surrey Central – Rec Centre

  • By piker, September 18, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

    Edmonds – there are washrooms, and a very good cafeteria, in the BC Hydro building.

  • By Stephanie, September 18, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

    I agree that there shouldn’t be washrooms in stations. I’ve been riding the skytrain daily for almost 2 years now and don’t think I’ve ever needed to get off to use a washroom.

    @Bill Kinkaid

    The Quay (now known as The River Market) is indeed opened and there are nice new public washrooms^^

  • By ;-), September 19, 2011 @ 7:53 am

    The washroom theme has been discussed a few times already. http://buzzer.translink.ca/index.php/2010/02/friday-fun-post-are-you-helping-out-new-folks-on-transit/ With an aging population, I think it’s something we should still proceed at selective busy stations.

    RT did a great job of identifying options. However, Waterfront stations are located a long walk to the Seabus and they post a sign that they are for Seabus passengers only. Yes I do use mall facilities whenever I can, but 9pm cutoff at many locations do make it an extreme challenge. Perhaps these washroom locations should be put on the station transit maps.

    The City of Vancouver has published a public washroom map. However it’s only for the downtown, the automated washrooms are busy or broken when I want to use it.
    http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/streets/furniture/pdf/autoToiletMap.pdf

    Here’s a map of other washrooms, but they are not open after it gets dark.
    http://vancouver.ca/engsvcs/streets/furniture/pdf/public-toilets.pdf

    Looking at the Main street station automated washroom situation as an example….. has it been a success? Do we want to see more of these advertisement driven bathrooms at busy Skytrain stations? Should we invite CBS/JCDecaux to expand their program on Translink station property?

    One idea I have is to build low cost “peeing walls/alcoves”. Basically it would be a cheap curved plastic wall that would channel the fluids to a nearby storm drain. It’s like a man made “bush” and would be extremely low maintenance. Rainwater from above or a street flusher would add to the “flushing” to minimize odours.

    You can even post advertisements on the walls. Women can use these facilities with adapters. Urilift makes an more expensive wall, but the concept and wall shape can be best illustrated in this link.
    http://www.urilift.com/

    Another low cost solution is to dig a hole and add a couple of bricks as a foot rest for comfort. This is how it’s done in some countries. Again very low maintenance as rainwater provides additional flushing.
    http://images.travelpod.com/tw_slides/ta00/bb2/4a4/bathroom-hole-lucerne.jpg

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, September 19, 2011 @ 11:27 am

    That last photo looks like a squat toilet.

    I’m a big advocate for squat toilets for public use, but not for private use. With public use, we wear shoes, so it’s not a huge deal, if we step on a *wet* floor.

    I used them in China. It took a bit of getting used to. I found that if you dropped your pants to your knees, and no lower or higher, then you’d do okay.

  • By Chris Yuen, September 19, 2011 @ 9:14 pm

    The coffee shop next door does just fine for me. Buy a beverage, take a leak. Everyone’s happy- and the new beverage makes it self sustaining too.

  • By CJ Stebbing, September 20, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

    i say if there are bathrooms, have bouncers guarding the doors…that way no hobo’s/drug addicts can go in :D

  • By Bryn, September 21, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

    Simple solution for places like transit exchanges (Phibbs comes to mind!!)

    Start selling commercial retail space in the transit loop – something quick like pizza slices, coffee or whatever. The profit from said retail space can be used to fund the washrooms, improve the customer experience and hopefully have something left over for Translink at the end of the day.

    It seems like it wouldn’t be that hard to be slightly profitable or at the very least revenue-neutral for TransLink. It makes absolutely no sense to me that nobody is taking advantage of that ‘captive market’ of folks who are going to be sitting at an exchange for 30 minutes with absolutely nothing else to do.

  • By Cliff, September 22, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

    While washrooms at key stations is a great idea, consideration should also be given to stations where buses may not come as often.

    Braid Station is one that sticks out for me as people have been using the area behind the bicycle lockers as a toilet since day one. Ladner Exchange isn’t such a bad idea either and as mentioned earlier, Phibbs is a good idea too.

  • By Eric B, September 23, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

    Can I counter that Phibbs and Ladner might not be good examples to set up retail areas, as they can be considered pulse points, and if the schedules are aligned, there would be no need to be dawdling at the bus loop for any more than 5-10 minutes. (See Human Transit’s description of pulse points here.)

    And I don’t think anyone has brought up the possibility of long-distance bus coaches with an on-board washroom. Would they be useful, even though the current Orions no longer travel all the way to/from downtown Vancouver?

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, September 24, 2011 @ 5:59 am

    I personally don’t like the idea of taking out seats just for a toilet, but maybe it would capture that market that needs toilets. In that situation, it would need to increase ridership, and not just make it more comfortable for the same people.

    Also, those washrooms should only be used on frequent routes, that have no convenient places for washroom stops. If the routes are frequent, then the rider could just catch the next bus. If the routes are infrequent, and already have a place to go, then the customer won’t miss the next bus. If the routes are infrequent, with no place to go, then we won’t be getting our money’s worth.

    For Ladner, customers can go to McDonald’s, then use the washroom, then buy a small orange juice, or something, and then catch the next bus. Maybe McDonald’s could try an honour system, where tip jar is available for those who don’t buy something on that visit.

  • By Len, September 24, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

    And where is all this money going to come from? We need the funding for the Coquitlam line and to maintain a system that was built 25 years ago. Half of the computer network is uber dated, the old trains really need an overhaul, and we keep delaying extensions because there’s no money. Bathrooms I think should wait until Translink, or SkyTrain itself, can afford to maintain itself without having to constantly hike our fares or our damn taxes. Public transit is becoming as unaffordable as driving because we spend too much time modernizing its appearance rather than keeping the systems running like Swiss clockwork! Take a look for instance at how much alone is being spent to upgrade signage that is already perfectly good…. Oy~!

  • By Bill Kinkaid, September 25, 2011 @ 11:46 am

    For the money they spent with last year’s botched renovation of Broadway station, and now putting in useless fare gates, how many washrooms could they put in?

  • By ;-), September 25, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

    If the question is money… almost nothing for a “peeing wall” that people can go for a little privacy.

    If the question is space…. have a look at this picture of an automated washroom on Robson. It’s smaller than a portable toilet.
    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=robson+at+richards&hl=en&ll=49.280348,-123.118222&spn=0.000028,0.024376&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=55.718442,99.84375&vpsrc=0&t=m&z=16&layer=c&cbll=49.280268,-123.118109&panoid=qnkP7ZGmKmS8wv4puWKbmw&cbp=12,16.95,,0,0.16

  • By Cliff, September 25, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

    Another thought: A lot of the problems with public washrooms can be limited by restricting their use to daylight hours only. It would make it harder for vandals and vagrants to abuse them. By also placing them within fare paid zones, I imagine it would be very hard (though not impossible) for certain people to spoil. Another tactic to counter drug addicts is to use specialized blue lighting that makes it hard for them to see their veins. I seem to remember the McDonald’s by Science World employing a similar strategy to counter the heroin addicts that attempt to use their washrooms.

    As far as funding goes, just find advertisers willing to contribute in exchange for advertising in and around the washrooms. We have advertisements all over public transit as it is, a few more in the washrooms isn’t such a bad idea.

    I heavily disagree with the idea of pay toilets or peeing walls. The ideas maybe intriguing, but seem to strike one with an air of unprofessionalism and tact.

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, September 26, 2011 @ 9:39 am

    Does anybody know if it is possible to reduce the amount of graffiti in washrooms?

  • By Dan, September 26, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

    @Cliff: You haven’t seen the pay washrooms in Germany. They are the cleanest public washrooms I’ve ever used, save for ones at a really nice restaurant or high-end store. I’d just as soon have all public-access washrooms be like that instead of the filth pits most of them are.

    @Eugene:
    You have an undercover agent monitor the washrooms. If the agent catches some punk trying to do graffiti, he rolls him in a carpet and throws him off a bridge.

    Either that or a good beating should do the trick. You know, like they do to vandals in Singapore. It seems to keep that city clean.

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, September 26, 2011 @ 9:43 pm

    :^P No wonder those punks are so crabby. The level of humiliation that they suffer must be unbearable. ;^P

    I’m actually starting to open up to the idea; the idea of public washrooms, of course.

  • By ;-), September 26, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

    Steel toilets would be resistant to graffiti or vandalism. However very unpleasant to use in cold temperatures. Sometimes we can’t be too choosy.
    http://toiletcleanerss.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Stainless-Steel-Toilet.jpg

    Squat toilets are also more resistant to trouble makers.

  • By ;-), September 28, 2011 @ 6:41 am

    It appears Vancouver is looking for Translink’s approval to install toilets at Skytrain stations…
    http://www.theprovince.com/life/Broken+public+toilets+Vancouver+frustrate+city+planners+with+video/5461380/story.html

    Sadly with the amount of vandalism, I’m not sure if Vancouver wants toilets anymore. Perhaps we should build them without doors or wiring to keep everyone happy.

  • By Robert Willis - Buzzer Editor, September 28, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

    Hi all: Wow, such great discussion and insight on this issue! The idea of having washrooms paid for by private enterprise is an interesting one (Dan, Cliff, etc). I’m going to take a look into the idea and get back to everyone on it.

  • By ;-), September 28, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

    For the young, the porcelin goddess doesn’t yield respect as it does for a senior.

    There is so much we can do trying medicating our way through the problem.
    http://www.brandpower.com/ssl/upload/Products02_ImmoLG.jpg

    There’s a drug for every problem in life.

  • By Laura, December 27, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

    I just wanted to say that as someone with stomach issues that can strike suddenly, I am all for public washrooms. I personally don’t think homeless will be that much of a problem, and as for drug user I honestly don’t care – install a safe needle disposal. I know public washrooms like this are not the nicest and we’d all like to avoid them but that isn’t always possible for people with conditions like me.

    Using bushes is really not a good option since it is illegal and obviously embarrassing. It’s true that there are stores near a lot of the stations, but again they don’t necessarily like having skytrain riders use there washrooms. I go to work in the morning and am on transit around 8:00 – most businesses are not open at this time so my options are more limited.

    Having the toilets behind the turnstiles is another good idea – this is what they do on the BART in San Francisco. I also like the idea of having little corner stores at stations – washrooms could be placed inside.

  • By Andrew McAllister, August 26, 2013 @ 8:23 am

    On the subject of washrooms(if installed0 being abused by the so called homeless, and drug addicts, I would like to suggest that a visit to the washroom that sits at ground zero, Main & Hastings.

    That washroom is in fact always clean no mess no fuss, as is the washroom at Victory Square. There is always a attendant usually never seen sitting in his office reading a book, look folks no hands it works.
    Translink has the technology but not the will, due to the them and us mentality that exits within their culture.

  • By Baron Taylor, July 29, 2019 @ 1:29 pm

    They really need bathrooms at Bridgeport Station because I always have to pee the whole way to Bridgeport from the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal on the 620 and I run to the airport to find a bathroom

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