One of the challenging issues that we’ve grappled with over the years is the frequent request by riders for Metro to add public restrooms at stations. Quite understandably, riders want to be comfortable — especially on long trips across our huge service area.
Beginning this month, we’re launching a six-month pilot program that will add toilets at three busy stations for riders — Westlake/MacArthur Park on the B/D Lines, Willowbrook/Rosa Parks on the A/C Lines and Norwalk on the C Line. We’re also adding a non-public Throne at the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink Station for bus operators taking breaks.
These will join the public restrooms that we already have at Union Station, El Monte Station and Harbor Gateway — three very busy hubs for sure but a fraction of the hundreds of rail and bus stops that Metro uses across L.A. County.
The pilot program is in partnership with a start-up company called Throne, which is trying to solve a problem that is prevalent in many parts of the world: a severe lack of public restrooms.
Each Throne unit is portable, ADA accessible, touchless and includes a flush toilet, a sink with running water and robust ventilation system. The units run on solar power and require no connections to water, sewer or electricity; each unit has a freshwater and wastewater tank that is more than four times larger than what’s found in a regular portable toilet, according to Throne.
Here’s how it will work:
- The toilets will be free and can be unlocked via QR code or by sending a quick SMS text message with a cell phone — a smartphone or flip phone will work (our most recent customer survey shows that 92 percent of riders have a basic cell phone or smartphone). Tying use to a phone number allows Throne to add accountability to public restrooms by warning or restricting access to users that break rules or damage the restrooms.
- Toilets will generally be open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Exact hours may vary by location. All visual and audio instructions are provided in English and Spanish.
Each Throne unit is equipped with 21 internet-connected sensors that allow Throne to know if everything is working — and when units need cleaning. In addition, users will be asked to rate their restroom experience and let Throne know when there are issues that require attention.
- Throne use is limited to 10 minutes, which is consistent with other automated restrooms such as the ones at El Monte and Harbor Gateway. Visitors are made aware of the time limit when entering the restroom and the door automatically opens after 10 minutes with ample warning to the user. The door will stay open until the user exits.
- Metro Ambassadors will have the ability to open toilets if not in use and will be monitoring the toilets to help riders access them if needed.
Public restrooms have long been a contentious issue, especially on public transit. Riders often say they want them, while transit agencies often cite the expensive burden of keeping restrooms clean, safe and free of inappropriate or illegal activity. This New York Times article from earlier this year looks at the dearth of public restrooms in the United States and beyond — and some of the new approaches that cities and public agencies are taking.
The pilot is made possible by Metro’s unsolicited proposal process overseen by our Office of Strategic Innovation. Unsolicited proposals have proven to be a good way to quickly get good ideas in the door and out on the system.
We expect to learn much from the pilot, specifically how the public toilets perform, the demand for them and public acceptance. The findings will help guide us when it comes to public restrooms in the future. Restrooms has been a much discussed issue in the past on The Source; comment away please!