The transit authority’s board of directors on Thursday approved a recommendation from management to increase the number of washrooms available for public use.
“This is a very big change from where we’ve been in the past, and I’m really pleased to see us moving in this direction,” said board member Larry Beasley.
Public washrooms have been a hot-button topic over the years, and TransLink did not previously have a policy. The new one was developed during 2018.
In the past, TransLink has cited the high cost of maintenance, and passenger safety and security as reasons to avoid adding washrooms on transit.
Currently, the only public washrooms are found at both SeaBus terminals and on West Coast Express trains, and they are required by federal transportation regulations.
A survey conducted as part of the review asked more than 2,000 people about washroom availability, and 72 per cent said that more washrooms would improve their transit experience. About 25 per cent said they would use transit more often if there were more washrooms.
“We do see this as an important ridership growth, ridership development objective,” said Andrew McCurran, TransLink’s director of strategic planning and policy.
Laura Mackenrot, the former vice-chair of the City of Vancouver’s persons with disabilities advisory committee, said four city committees had appealed to TransLink to add more washrooms to the transit system.
“How can you deny people the ability to do a basic human need every day?” Mackenrot asked the board. “This is not just a disability issue, it’s an accessibility issue that affects us all — all ages and all abilities.”
Mackenrot said she knows people who don’t use public transit because they have no access to washrooms, and urged TransLink to make sure any washrooms it adds are universally accessible and gender neutral.
According to a staff report, washrooms should be placed at major transfer or connection points for a high number of transit passengers, in places where there will be many passengers who have long journey times and evenly spaced on the system.
TransLink will look at existing spaces within stations, adding washrooms during upgrades or construction of new stations or partnering with developers, municipalities or private businesses.
An implementation strategy will be brought to the board for consideration next year, which will include potential washroom locations, costs and a timeline.
Mackenrot said after the meeting that she was very happy with the board’s decision.
“We worked really hard on this for the last couple of years and I think it’s a great first step in the right direction to be including washrooms in our stations,” she said.
One TransLink policy that won’t change is related to pets on transit.
Currently, TransLink allows pets — other than certified service animals — if they are in small, hand-held cages that fit on your lap. Transit operators can refuse a pet if there is a concern for safety or comfort of other passengers, or if there is standing room only.
It was anticipated that allowing more pets would negatively affect people travelling without pets, worsen safety and well being of passengers and staff, hurt system efficiency and increase administrative costs.
Management recommended that TransLink maintain its current policy, but continue to monitor industry trends and public sentiment to see if changes are needed in the future. The board endorsed that recommendation.
“Our current policy strikes a reasonable balance, providing an option for individuals who travel with pets without unreasonable, negative impacts to other transit riders,” said Andrew Devlin, manager of policy development.
Margaret Halsey has long advocated for allowing more dogs on transit. She said that if the board won’t consider changing the policy, then there should be a pilot project to see how it might work to have more pets on board.
“I’m certain that dogs that are allowed only at set times or on specific trains or buses would alleviate a considerable amount of challenges,” Halsey said.