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Shame the lack of johns: TransLink crosses its legs over public toilets

Transit authority survey one giant stall... and not the kind that provides relief
Columnist and public washroom aficionado Allen Garr sees TransLink’s recent survey as a giant stall,
Columnist and public washroom aficionado Allen Garr sees TransLink’s recent survey as a giant stall, and not the kind that would provide you or your children the kind of relief they may be desperately seeking.

This week TransLink concluded an online public opinion survey asking folks if they wanted washrooms at SkyTrain stations and, if they did, did they want them to be single units, multiple units and facilities that required maintenance staff.

As those of you who are regular users of SkyTrain know, there are no such facilities of any description at any of the SkyTrain stations. Yes, there are washrooms for staff, but when it comes to the general public, well, to put it bluntly, you won’t find a pot to piss in.

I frankly cannot imagine the purpose of this survey except to see it as a giant stall, and not the kind that would provide you or your children the kind of relief they may be desperately seeking.

At least three Vancouver council advisory committees — the Persons with Disability committee, the Active Transportation committee and the Seniors committee — have for years been pressing both the city and TransLink to, as it were, get off the pot. The city has been moving on increasing its number of accessible washrooms available for public use and taking the message to TransLink, too. So far nothing.

And before we get too far into this, I should tell you that, out of more than journalistic interest, I know the location of practically every available washroom between here and Hope.

And, if I may digress a bit further, I am also well aware that when it comes to washrooms in most theatres, the facilities available are more commodious to the needs of men than women. Hard to imagine a toilet design would be sexist. But that is the only way to explain why men rarely have to line up after a movie or during a performance intermission while women are often backed up seemingly endlessly.

I recall engaging in an animated exchange of views on this issue with the impresario Garth Drabinsky while I was hosting a radio show on CKNW and before Drabinsky was sent off to prison. It coincided with his opening of the new Ford Centre, now the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts in downtown Vancouver. The subject of our discussion was the fact the toilet allocation for women was so inadequate, the intermission was not long enough for many to do what they had to do before the performance recommenced.

Not all theatre operators are insensitive to this, by the way. City councillor Elizabeth Ball, the council liaison to the city’s Seniors’ committee, reminded me of one notable exception. When Rae Ackerman took over management of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre some time back, one of his first acts was to expand the women’s washrooms. If that didn’t improve attendance, it certainly provided a relief to many.

As for TransLink, their failure, their refusal, their apparent indifference to this basic human need has meant that parents with small kids who need to go are left with nowhere to go. As for seniors, the city’s seniors committee chair, Colleen McGuiness, makes the point that uncertainly on this issue for seniors leads to them just staying home and isolated rather than venturing out and getting stuck.

What TransLink has done is what many other companies in their business have done: they assume that there are washrooms available nearby that their customers can make a dash to. Actually in Frankfurt, Germany, the public transit folks pay businesses nearby for the right of the general public to use their toilets. And if you feel a bit awkward slinking into a restaurant for the sole purpose of using the loo, several people have mentioned that Starbucks, as a matter of policy, makes its facilities available to anybody to cares to ask even without ordering a Mocha Grande.

Yet it does seem odd that in a city that wants to cast itself as seniors-friendly and wants to encourage people to use public transit, that TransLink remains intransigent. Meanwhile you can find washrooms in department stores, lumber yards, gas stations, grocery stores and coffee shops — all to meet one of our most basic of human needs.

TransLink’s communications person did get back to me to about that survey to say they were just curious about whether “washrooms would improve the customer experience.” As for the results: “We may do something, we may not.”

Don’t hold, well, whatever it is you have to hold while you wait.