VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If nature calls while Pam Horton is taking transit in Metro Vancouver, she has few options to answer it.
Horton, who has lived with MS for 40 years, has to leave the SkyTrain station or bus stop to find a bathroom she can access with her power wheelchair.
Or she can try tracking down an attendant who can unlock a single-stall bathroom in a SkyTrain station that’s generally reserved for staff.
Neither option is ideal, Horton said.
“I don’t want to have to make an announcement to somebody I’ve never met before: ‘Hey, I really gotta pee. Can I use the toilet please?’ ” she said.
Advocates have long called for more transit bathrooms
As the chair of Disability Alliance B.C. and a member of TransLink’s Transit Users’ Advisory Committee, Horton has been among a chorus of advocates who have called on the transit authority to increase the number of public restrooms along its routes. Currently, SeaBus terminals and WestCoast Express trains have the only publicly accessible bathrooms provided by TransLink.
“It’s a general population issue, but people with disabilities even more so,” she said. “It’s harder for us to find a public washroom by virtue of our needs, whether it be for a wider stall, or a grab bar, or proximity.”
In December 2018, TransLink’s board of directors voted to increase the number of bathrooms it provides to the public.
A survey taken when the policy was being considered found 72 per cent of respondents said having more bathrooms would improve their transit experience and 25 per cent said such a change would lead them to take transit more often.
In the same survey, the majority of seniors and people with disabilities told TransLink it should make building more bathrooms a top priority.
Transit authority working on restroom plan
But there’s been no progress since then, Horton said.
TransLink is currently working on an “implementation strategy to increase availability of safe, clean, well-maintained and accessible washrooms at high-volume SkyTrain and bus facilities,” according to spokesperson Jill Drews.
Once that’s done, the authority will determine costs and potentially incorporate them into future plans, she said in an emailed statement.
“We know through our outreach work that customers are interested in washrooms on the system,” Drews said. “In the past, factors like safety and cost have been reasons to not provide TransLink owned and operated washrooms in fare paid zones.”
New Broadway line stops will lack facilities
Transit users shouldn’t expect much improvement when the Broadway Subway is projected to open in 2025.
None of the six underground stations will initially have public bathrooms, but two – Broadway-City Hall and the line’s terminus, Arbutus – will be built to accommodate such facilities “in the future,” according to B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Like SkyTrain and Canada Line stops, each Broadway station will have single-stall bathrooms accessible with the help of an attendant.
The cost of maintenance is no excuse to deny access to something as basic as a toilet, according to Vancouver-based writer Gabrielle Peters, who also uses a wheelchair.
“You’re operating a public transit system, so you have to staff and clean it. That’s part of your operating cost,” she said. “I find it disappointing the amount of effort that has to go into accessing such a basic, basic human right and human need.”
TransLink cannot call bathrooms that require assistance to use “accessible,” Peters said, adding, “You can’t call your transit system accessible if you don’t have accessible washrooms.”