Metro bus and train operators have had to resort to relieving themselves inside their trains and buses, say current and former workers. One operator said she twice found
feces under piles of newspapers inside the cab of the trains assigned to her. A bus driver said he found bottles of urine in the bus trash can. One even admitted to heeding the call of nature on the buses and trains.
"I have. Oh, everybody has. I even soiled my clothes once," one longtime operator told
The Washington Examiner. "That's why the trains smell like urine near where the operators are." The problem, they and their union say, is not enough time for breaks and not enough nearby bathrooms. Metro's inspector general has called for the agency to review the schedules of train operators to make sure they have adequate time to use bathrooms, after finding that they were using tracks in tunnels as lavatories.
|Cameras deter impromptu potty breaks|
|Metro has taken one measure that appears to have unintentionally helped curb drivers from relieving themselves in their buses: cameras.|
|One former bus operator said she used to go into a cup or bag at the back of her bus when a bathroom stop wasn't an option.|
|But another worker said that practice stopped about a year ago after the agency started putting cameras into more of the buses.|
|"Because they were getting caught," he said.|
|He said he found containers of urine in the trash on his buses. After he and others reported it, agency officials would look at the videos from the cameras and find out who left them there.|
|Train operators and track workers don't have anyone watching, though, and when they have no other options, they go.|
|One former track worker said they try to be careful. "We try to be very conscious of health issues, if possible," he said. "We don't just pee anywhere." Instead, he said, track workers try to go near the drains in the tunnels.|
Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said a notice was issued in response to the report and operators have been reminded about taking breaks.
But no extra time was given, said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 President Jackie Jeter. "The breaks have always been there," Jeter said. "It's a matter of whether or not you get to take it."
Bus and train operators must receive a break after five hours and 45 minutes under the union contract. But since the June 2009 Red Line crash, trains have been running manually, not automatically, slowing them down. The schedules have not been adjusted to make up for the difference, she said.
Metro "has been cutting the fat out of the schedules for a long time, and it's gotten the schedule down to the bare bones," Jeter said. "If you're late from the beginning of your day to the end of your day, your break is also cut short."
Some bus routes don't have bathrooms at the end of the line, she said. The buses can get caught in traffic, fouling up the schedule -- and the operators' breaks.
|Metro train operators aren't the only workers who grapple with the issue of finding a place to go.|
|Transit workers around the country fill chat boards with discussions of properly timing their bodies with their breaks. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 President Jackie Jeter said the issue has come up at conventions.|
|And labor sites explain the health consequences of "voluntary dehydration" when operators try to avoid creating the problem. Transit agencies have different euphemisms for taking a bathroom break.|
|It's a "personal relief" in Washington. In New York, it's called a "comfort." Some just call break time "recovery."|
"We recognize that when Mother Nature calls, it doesn't always happen at a convenient time or location," Farbstein said. "Our train and bus operators can coordinate these urgent situations with the operations control center to make arrangements."
But on the train, Jeter said, a supervisor who can take over the train may be busy or far away. On buses, drivers may have to stop with riders aboard, which can be embarrassing, then run into a restaurant or gas station.
Furthermore, she said, Metro officials tend to "shame them out of it or make it difficult" for those who ask for breaks by making them take a drug test or write an incident report.
"It's a problem that has left the operators very, very frustrated," Jeter said. "It's more than just the whole act itself being nasty. You have kidney infections, bladder infections from holding your water."
She said she wasn't aware of employees relieving themselves in their vehicles, saying riders are sometimes to blame for the urine smells. But she said drivers tell her about the problem regularly. "You have to be kind of creative, I guess, in the bathroom situation."