Action Center

Bathroom Breaks

Transit Operator Bathroom Breaks:
A Matter of Human Dignity and Respect

Most people take access to a restroom in the workplace for granted, but bus and train operators often complete long runs without reasonable access to toilet facilities. For years, operators have avoided drinking water during the workday, relieved themselves into bottles or on the street, and even wet themselves or worn adult diapers. The problem is especially hard on pregnant and older operators, those with medical conditions of the bladder or bowels, and for people taking diuretic medication.

Even when restrooms are available, many factors can still affect an operator’s access. Schedule pressures may mean that operators do not have time to access, use, and return from a restroom. Procedures for leaving and securing the bus or train may be vague or unrealistic, or the restrooms may be unsanitary or unsafe. Concern about embarrassment or negative passenger reaction can also discourage operators from going to the restroom. Some operators have been disciplined for taking “unauthorized breaks” to use the restroom. In 2004, a member of ATU Local 757-Portland, OR, was crushed by her own bus as she ran to the restroom at the end of her route. The fact is the discomfort and stress of “holding it in” make it more difficult to operate a vehicle safely and effectively.

Operators report being distracted and driving faster when under this kind of pressure. One study found that not responding to an extreme urge to urinate affected attention and thinking. The effect was equal to that of staying awake for 24 hours or having a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.05%. For comparison, a commercial driver would be disqualified at a BAC of 0.04%.

Transit operators have a right to:

  • Rapid access to restrooms when needed, on all routes and all shifts
  • Safe access to clean, fully equipped facilities along routes and at end of routes with locations identified and updated
  • Adequate time to access, use, and return from restrooms
  • No retaliation, discipline, or threats for going to the restroom
  • Restroom use time built into scheduling
  • Clear policies on restroom access along the route, including how to notify dispatch, safe methods for leaving and securing the bus, communicating with passengers and discharging passengers.

Watch these videos on transit operator bathroom breaks: