Transit’s missing link: The public toilet

January 19, 2018
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This case study illustrates how the lack of a public restroom on a key route can render transit unusable for many riders and what community members can do to fight back.

When it opened in late 2016, riders changing buses at an expensive new transit center in Washington State were dismayed to find they had no access to a toilet.  Kitsap Transit’s sparkling new North Viking Transit Center failed to serve their regular customers, and especially those with short to average “bladder leashes”. Unless they were able to “hold it” for nearly two hours, riders transiting between the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal and Port Townsend were are out of luck. This is a classic illustration of how the public toilet is so often the missing link in the success of a transit system.

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Jefferson Transit Line 7 meets Kitsap Transit bus 90 at the new North Viking Transit Center.

The new transit center lies in a large Park and Ride facility in the middle of nowhere.  It  replaced a more modest bus platform where the passengers transferred between Kitsap Bus #90 and Jefferson Transit’s #7, which crosses a floating bridge to serve the Olympic Peninsula. The old transit stop was served by a simple porta-potty used by both drivers and passengers alike.  Moreover, it was near restaurants and shops where riders could shelter in the event of a major transit disruption.

No expense had been spared on the new North Viking Transit Center. Except on the restroom that is. A sweeping pavilion accommodates four full size buses at once. It’s surrounded by a huge parking lot equipped with numerous spaces with outlets for electrical vehicles. An ample number of spaces serve disabled drivers, including those who need additional room to exit their vehicles. (See photos at end of post.)

For the opening, the pavilion was festooned with attractive welcome banners in four languages . Several large ,easy-to-read digital clocks flash out times. and current transit schedules are posted.  Architects had clearly paid attention to CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design); there are clean sightlines and windowed walls. While there are no corners where an unsuspecting customer can be trapped,  there is likewise no shelter from winter winds.

Fruit trees were planted around the property to symbolize the “commitment to being part of the solid roots that Kitsap Transit has within the community that we serve now and for years to come.” Expensive, solar powered Big Belly trash compactors were installed to manage the solid waste that riders generate. But was there any no provision for human waste or for human dignity? No.

PHLUSH got in touch with Kitsap Transit Customer Service specialist Trudy Stacy, who explained why restrooms were not part of the design. “The decision not to have public restrooms available at our new North Viking Transit Center and Park & Ride was one made by our Board of Directors.  It costs so much in staff and labor to properly maintain and keep them safe and secure, that they opted not to do that at this facility.”

It was time to let Kitsap Transit know the discomfort and humiliation that their lack of a restroom caused regular commuters as well as to the visitors-without-cars that the city of Port Townsend, located at the northernmost end of Jefferson County wanted to attract.

It was also important to get the support of Jefferson Transit’s board as their early morning commuters to Seattle suffered the most. Their arrival at the North Viking Transit Center followed  a pre-dawn departure and a ride of an hour or more, depending on whether they were delayed by a bridge lift to accommodate vessels transiting Hood Canal.

To let Kitsap Transit understand the consequences of their no restroom decision, activists distributed the following instructions:

  1. Speak out to Kitsap Transit.  Go on line here and express your dismay at the lack of a restroom or simply send Ms Stacy an email or ring her at 360-475-0824. Emphasize the the discomfort and anger riders feel as they wait in the cold and watch drivers walk away for breaks in the warmth and comfort of the restoom-equipped Kitsap Transit headquarters.
  2. Write to the Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners and attend a twice-monthly Tuesday meeting.  The Clerk of the Board is Jill Boltz, available at 360-478-6230 or via email.
  3. Write members of the Kitsap Transit Citizens Advisory Committee and attend one of their monthly meetings.  Read manual  Transit 101 for the CAC.
  4. Get the support of the Jefferson Transit Authority Board.  Monthly meetings are on third Tuesdays at 1:30pm.
  5. To support local transportation goals and the Jefferson County climate action plan, get the City of Port Townsend, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Fort Worden PDA, the Historical Society, the Marine Science Center, and all of the festivals organizers to tell prospective visitors the options for getting to PT by public means.
  6. Bring attention to the car-centric directions on websites of these local players, make the case for change and provide the necessary information so they can make information available.
  7. Ask Enjoy PT to target the growing audiences in Seattle, Victoria, Portland and Vancouver that do not own cars or prefer not to drive them. Invite them to use transit and other means and tell them how.

In the end a simple porta-potty was placed on the far end of the platform a North Viking Transit Center.  While it is possible for many more passengers to use the service, this still does not excuse the lack of provision of a proper public restroom in the first place.

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Riders still have wait in outside in the cold while the driver of Jefferson Transit Bus 7 takes a break in the warmth of the nearby restroom-equipped Kitsap Transit headquarters. But at least now there is a porta potty at the end of the platform.

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Drivers’ bathroom is in Kitsap Transit’s headquarters building, which remains off limits to riders.

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This tree in full view of waiting riders became a favored site for open urination.

Solar powered Big Belly solid waste compactors mix trash and recyclables.

Except for provision of a proper restroom, no expense was spared.  Every bat of the transit center has solar powered Big Belly solid waste compactors that mix trash and recyclables.

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Riders with electric vehicles are accommodated right at the edge of the platform.

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Drivers of electric vehicles are accommodated at the bus bay platform.

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Kitsap Transit opened its shiny new with welcome banners in many languages.

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The agency may be committed to sustainability and fruit trees but what about the comfort and health of their customers?

 

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Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH) was founded in Portland, Oregon and today collaborates with groups across North America.

PHLUSH is a member of the World Toilet Organization and a partner in the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.

Our Mission Through education and advocacy, PHLUSH helps local governments and citizen groups to provide equitable public restroom availability and to prepare for a pipe-breaking seismic event with appropriate ecological toilet systems.

Our Vision Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.

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