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.
“There’s not enough time allowed in the schedules for operators to use the restroom,” said Jackie Jeter, president of Amalgamated Transit Local 689, which represents most Metro employees. “It’s not something the managers at the Jackson Graham Building give much thought to because they can go right down the hall whenever they want to use the bathroom,” she said, referring to Metro’s headquarters.
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.
“The fact is, most operators know their route and — just like anyone about to take a road trip — plan accordingly,” he said.
But union officials and bus operators say drivers often don’t have enough time for the breaks because the schedules are too tight, and there’s no leeway if they run late because of traffic. They might get a chance to go during layovers between routes, but those can sometimes be five minutes or less, operators said. Operators also get 20-minute meal breaks when they can use the restroom on their shifts, according to Metro officials.
However, Stessel acknowledged that operators might not have adequate time for bathroom breaks. He said Metro recently opened a hot line for bus operators to give input on making changes to the scheduling of routes.
Union officials say it’s not just a question of driver comfort; it’s a health issue.
Jeter said she hears of at least one incident each quarter where a Metrobus operator has developed a problem, usually a urinary tract infection, related to having to wait too long to use a bathroom.
Larry Hanley, president of the national Amalgamated Transit Union, said he’s heard of cases throughout the country where bus operators have developed digestive diseases and bladder problems from not being able to use a bathroom frequently.
Hanley, who started his career driving a bus in Brooklyn in the 1970s, cited a case in 2004 where a driver in Oregon was killed when her bus rolled over her after she didn’t properly set her brake. She was running behind schedule and was racing to get to a bathroom, according to news reports.