Public washrooms are the top request in TransLink's new consultation on amenities

Jul 28 2021, 3:45 pm

About two weeks ago, TransLink launched an online public consultation inviting the general public to submit their wish list for new and improved passenger amenities and services.

Now that the survey‘s open period is reaching its halfway point, with approximately two weeks to go until the consultation ends, the introduction of public washrooms onto the public transit network is the most common request to date. At the time of writing, roughly 10% of over 200 ideas submissions related to “washrooms” or “bathrooms.”

“These could be washrooms with on-site attendants (as seen in Europe) to deal with concerns about public safety, cleanliness or vandalism. As people’s transit commutes grow ever longer and the population ages, for the sake of public hygiene and to address human physical needs, this must happen,” reads one submission.

Another wrote: “There’s already a huge lack of public washrooms and not being able to access one when you’re travelling a while is a big obstacle.”

Currently, only the SeaBus terminals have fully accessible public washrooms, located at the northern end of the waiting areas. These ferry washrooms were recently renovated.

Single-occupancy washrooms already exist at some of the existing SkyTrain stations, but they are locked and can only be accessed by passengers with the assistance of a SkyTrain attendant.

Public washrooms were also a matter of discussion for Burnaby City Council earlier this week, which approved a motion that formally requests TransLink to open the fully furnished washroom facility at SkyTrain Metrotown Station that was built as part of the station’s recent major renovation and expansion.

Earlier today, a TransLink spokesperson clarified with Daily Hive Urbanized that a completed washroom at Metrotown Station actually exists, but is currently unused. This is the only new or renovated station that has a public washroom space with fixtures fully installed, while the rest are empty, void spaces with only plumbing access completed.

The Metrotown Station public washroom was completed as a condition of the City of Burnaby’s approval process for the station overhaul project.

But this does not change the fact that the important funding for the operation, cleaning, and security of public washrooms is non-existent. The one-time capital cost of building a public washroom is minimal compared to the ongoing, annual cost of cleaning and maintenance. A multi-occupant, fully accessible public washroom that sees high traffic and requires a great degree of maintenance carries the same annual operating cost of at least one bus, which is a significant structural cost when replicated to numerous potential public washroom locations.

metrotown station skytrain

West entrance into SkyTrain Metrotown Station. (Google Maps)

arbutus station skytrain broadway extension

SkyTrain Arbutus Station design concept, April 2021. (Government of BC)

As part of the Millennium Line Broadway Extension project, future public washroom spaces are being included into Arbutus Station and Broadway-City Hall Station, but these will only be void, empty spaces upon the subway’s opening in 2025. Funding is needed for the installation of the fixtures and operations.

For the new Capstan Station on the Canada Line in Richmond, a public washroom will not be provided in the station. Instead, the adjacent private development by Concord Pacific will have public washrooms close to the station entrance.

Public washrooms are already in the purview of the public transit authority, but it requires TransLink’s Mayors’ Council to provide clear direction and funding for this significant amenity.

In 2018, TransLink’s Board of Directors approved a broad strategy to gradually roll out public washrooms in strategic high-ridership locations, but this still needs to be followed up by a precise plan for implementation accompanied with funding.

At the time, it was stated that the preferred public washroom strategy would centre on partnerships with third parties — such as retail tenants in the transit system — to maximize passenger experience and better ensure safety and security, while also minimizing costs and risks. The retail tenants would serve to double as a manned presence for the public washroom.

The Metrotown Station public washroom would be cleaned and maintained based on this third-party model, with the tenants of the new retail space constructed at the station responsible for the operation of this washroom location. However, TransLink has not been able to lease the space, and as a result, the washroom has gone unused.

Here are some of the other notable, unique, and/or frequently made amenity suggestions in TransLink’s public consultation:

Platform screen doors

Platform screen doors — a physical safety barrier to prevent passengers from falling into the tracks — are a common feature of subway stations across Asia. The SkyTrain-like REM train network currently under construction in Montreal will have platform screen doors for all stations, which will be a first for North America.

Currently, platform screen doors are not possible on the Expo and Millennium lines as there are three different generations of train models that each have different door spacings. But this could be a possibility at some point in the future, after the old 1980s/early-1990s Mark I cars are replaced by an expansion fleet of Mark III trains this decade.

With that said, platform screen doors are already possible on the Canada Line as it uses a single model of train, with the newly arrived expansion fleet in 2019/2020 being identical to the original fleet.

REM Montreal train network

Artistic rendering of the underground REM station for Montreal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, protected by platform screen doors. (REM)

Digital Compass Card on smartphone app

A smartphone app could enable the extra option of allowing passengers to use a digital Compass Card. It would also provide the ability to conveniently reload a Compass Card, and access pertinent information such as real-time next bus times, bus tracking, Trip Planner, and service alerts.

One suggestion also brought up the idea of a flexible period for a monthly pass that allows a pass to be bought on any day. Under the current system, monthly passes are available between the 20th day of the previous month and the 15th day of the current month.

Get rid of the YVR Airport AddFare on the Canada Line

To support the operating cost of the Canada Line’s segment within Sea Island Station, TransLink has an additional $5.00 charge for inbound trips that start at any of the three stations on Sea Island — YVR Airport Station, Sea Island Centre Station, and Templeton Station. This “AddFare” also subsidizes the free trips anyone can make within Sea Island, as the Canada Line also doubles as an airport people mover between the terminal building and parking facilities.

Instead of the “AddFare” for the inbound direction leaving Sea Island, it was suggested that this should be replaced by simply making Sea Island part of Zone 2. To achieve this, however, the Compass computer system would likely require a major upgrade.

Improved signs and wayfinding

LCD displays are recommended inside buses and SkyTrain cars to clearly display the next stop location and other pertinent information. Such screens have been gradually rolled out into the buses in Toronto and New York City in recent years.

As well, the RapidBus real-time, next bus screens should be upgraded from quartz screens to LED screens, similar to the recently installed real-time, next train digital screens recently installed on the platforms of the Expo and Millennium lines.

Other suggestions relating to wayfinding include larger text on print signs, and consistency with the LED destination signs on the front of buses.

More bus stops with shelters

Several suggestions were made to add shelters to bus stops that do not currently have these fixtures, which would provide passengers with added comfort from inclement weather and make stops more visible.

However, the installation and maintenance of bus stop shelters is the responsibility of municipal governments, and for this reason there is no uniformity in the design of the shelters.

At least one municipal government has indicated it is ramping up the presence of shelters; Burnaby City Council recently approved installing at least 370 additional bus shelters or bus benches by 2030 to increase the comfort of passengers.

Burnaby is not alone in not providing shelters for all bus stops, but within the municipality, 737 of the 968 stops only have a bench or no enhancements. Just 231 stops have a shelter structure, which means 76% of all stops do not have shelters. With a $30,000 cost to design, fabricate, and install each unit, it would cost $22 million to ensure every stop in Burnaby is outfitted with a shelter.

burnaby bus shelter translink f

City of Burnaby standardized shelter for a TransLink bus stop. (Google Maps)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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