It won't help anyone in need today but Metro riders in search of a restroom will find relief this summer at Huntington Station.
Metro directors gave their initial approval yesterday to the testing of a self-cleaning toilet at the last Virginia station on the Yellow Line. It's called the Galaxy, and it seems appropriately space-age: a shiny silver exterior with an interior that automatically flushes and dispenses soap, paper and water. A chemical wash cleans the toilet after every use and the floor after every 30 uses.
If the full Metro board approves, the toilet will be placed in the north mezzanine section of the station, within view of the station manager and available to passengers who have paid a fare.
Metro managers plan to test the toilet for one year at a cost of $66,500, measuring the number of people who use it and whether it attracts additional riders to Huntington. Huntington was chosen because it's a terminal station used by many commuters who drive farther than most to reach the station and then face a long subway ride into Washington, Metro officials said.
"It's one of those small things, but it does appear to have touched a nerve out there in the public," said T. Dana Kauffman, who represents Fairfax County on the Metro board and proposed the experiment.
Carlton Sickles, who represents Montgomery County, said he has experienced the need for restrooms firsthand. "I'm 81 years old, and my senior moment is 'Where's the next bathroom?' " he said. "When you have a heart condition and you take diuretics, it makes it even worse. It's a real problem as the population ages."
Every Metro station has at least two restrooms, one for each sex. They are usually near the station manager's kiosk, off a hallway behind a locked door. They are spacious and clean, equipped with multiple stalls, plenty of soap and neatly stacked paper towels.
Metro policy requires station managers to make the restrooms available to any passenger who is having an emergency, has small children or is elderly or disabled. But riders say station managers rarely admit them into restrooms.
Kauffman said he was convinced of the need for restroom access by Robert Brubaker, a retired computer manager from Fairfax who has been lobbying Metro for a year to make its restrooms more available to passengers. Brubaker has created a Web site, metroped.org/Restroom/Home.htm, formed a group called the Public Restrooms Initiative and become a darling of the bladder-challenged community, collecting speaking invitations before groups such as the National Association for Continence.
"This is great that they're going ahead with the self-cleaning toilet, but in the interim, I'd like them to open the toilets they have," Brubaker said yesterday. "It's not clear why they want to go with this more expensive solution."
James Gallagher, Metro's deputy general manager for operations, said the existing restrooms in Metro stations were not built for use by the general public. Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson has objected to opening them to the public, saying they would create a haven for criminals and illegal activity.