Metrorail Station Restrooms

Metrorail (WMATA) Station Restrooms 

Media Support and Work Page

… Here I was looking for the signs, knowing what they look like, and I could not find them in 22 of the 29 stations I visited. …  …The wording on the signs is intimidating and makes one hesitate to even ask to use the restroom. The locations of the signs were not consistent and they seldom appeared at the same locations in the 7 kiosks where I did spot them…

The above are excerpts from Steve Snell’s Sept 3’rd ’05.

Media Update 3/14/06
Fairfax County Attorney’s Opinion 3/6/06
Metrorail Station Restroom Survey
WMATA Customer Restroom Access AUD 06-102
Response to survey from WMATA CEO Richard White
Follow-up to CEO Response

A Metrorail rider advocacy group poll does not include closed restrooms as a rider issue,
If you think it should, take the poll and add restrooms under ‘other’.

2005 Rider Poll



For many years Metrorail station managers often told riders that there were no station restrooms or that they were for employees only. In November of 2003 the WMATA Board voted to improve customer access at Metrorail station restrooms. Due to terrorist concerns it was decided to keep the restrooms locked but signs were installed providing instruction for customers in need. Initially it appeared the problem had been resolved but then during heightened security alerts WMATA public releases stated, “the restrooms would be locked”.  The restrooms were already locked; what was really meant was that station managers would not honor requests.  The access-controlled toilet facilities at Metrorail stations are clearly more secure than those at airports and trains stations. This additional WMATA policy appears an unnecessarily severe response.  One of the initial reasons given for the normal locked door policy was the potential for terrorism in the Metro system.   In addition to the security closings, a more troubling problem began around the beginning of 2005. Station managers again began saying there were no customer restrooms and, worse, the signs at many stations were removed.

The Chair of the WMATA Board confirmed that the Board was not aware of and had not approved the removal the restroom signs.  At this time it is not clear what action is being done to resolve the problem.


An initial goal of the Public Restroom Initiative [advocacy group arguing for riders] was to have large unambiguous signs [see top of page] placed on walls in clear view of all riders. It is hoped this solution will be re-considered now that the small difficult to see kiosk signs are being removed.

We also would like to see our previously recommended suggestion for remote unlocking devices, reconsidered. This would allow station managers to control access without physically accompanying patrons.

Finally, we would like to see an independent security threat assessment to determine if the additional restrictions during heightened security alerts are necessary considering that terrorism was the justification for keeping the restrooms locked and under station manager control.


July 2002 – Washington Post Special Report provides comprehensive look at the problems faced by Metrorail riders when they need to use the restroom. The Post story was followed by coverage in multiple media outlets. Based on public interest, the Chair of the WMATA Operations Board, Dana Kauffman learned that Metrorail operations employees felt that if the public was allowed to use the restrooms the facilities would be used to take drugs and for prostitution. Dana asked that a 6 month test be run at the Huntington Station to validate the concerns. The Huntington Station has 2 sets of customer restrooms with a total of 18 toilet fixtures and it has additional ’employee only’ restrooms.  Metro officials feared that allowing the public to see these high quality restrooms would make it difficult to end the 6 month test and would lead to a demand that other stations restrooms be opened. They proposed instead, the installation and test of an automated self-cleaning toilet.

January 2003 – Huntington Station Self-Cleaning public restroom operational.

April 2003 – Toddy Puller, a State Senator in Virginia, asked the States Building Code Administrator and he confirmed in writing that Metrorail Stations in Virginia are required to provide customer restrooms.   (see Building Code Requirement)

June 2003 – Then Chairman of the WMATA Board, Chris Zimmerman asked Executive Director of WMATA, Richard White to evaluate the impact of unrestricted station restroom access at all stations.

July 2003 – Richard White established team to evaluate impact of opening station restrooms to the public.

September 2003 – Metro’s Security Officer argued to keep the restrooms closed to customers but at an Operations Board meeting open to the public, Metro Deputy General Manager James Gallagher proposed customers use of restrooms at a majority of stations stating that a terrorist bombing of these restrooms would not curtail rail service.  As a compromise It was decided to keep the restrooms locked but install signs that would notify customers that restrooms were available on request.  Five stations would not provide customer access due to additional security concerns.

November 2003 – The full WMATA Board voted to accept the proposed restroom policy and directed that the policy be implemented by the end of the year.

January 2004 – Signs were in place and the policy was activated

March 2004 – Station Operation Special Order #04-01 is published

May 29, 2004 – WMATA Executive Director Richard White said during an interview on NBC4 Viewpoint that the new restroom policy was a success and had caused no problems.

August 2005 – Reports from riders indicate that station restrooms signs are being removed and that many station managers are again indicating there are no customer restrooms. In addition, during code orange security alerts WMATA has been announcing the station restrooms will be locked and customer use prohibited.

(Editor Note: Terrorism was the argument for the ‘always locked policy’.  Especially since train stations and airport restrooms are not locked, the justification for this draconian Metrorail prohibition is not clear.)

From the Archives

“Master Agreements” between WMATA and each Jurisdiction, require that the station be design in accordance with local building codes.  These codes require sufficient water fountains and toilet facilities for all occupants.  With up to 18 Toilets in the largest station, clearly customer use was intended.  The restrooms are locked to prevent misuse.  By policy, rider access to these facilities is via a request to the Station Manager.  According to a Metro Spokesman, requests may be refused “in those rare occasions when they feel customer safety could be in jeopardy(2)”

Unfortunately over time, ‘rather then in rare occasions’ many station managers began to routinely refuse patron requests.  At a public hearing(3) WMATA’s Operations Chief admitted they routinely deny patrons restroom access and claimed the restrooms were built to service only WMATA employees.  This has resulted in lower quality of life for some commuters and has precluded the use of mass-transit by others.

“‘able-bladdered’ folks at Metro must realize that the decisions they make affect thousands who may not ride the Metro because they’re afraid to be caught without a restroom”
Wash Post interview with President of Simon Foundation (Chicago IL)

“You have to convince the station manager it’s an emergency and then hope he/she isn’t too busy to unlock the door. This is ridiculous”
Editorial – Journal Newspaper
TV Coverage Metrorail Automated Public Toilet   (for broadband)
TV Coverage Metrorail Automated Public Toilet    (for dial-up modem)

Position Paper

(Based on the assumption that all station restrooms must remain locked.)

Recommend the following be implemented as soon as possible…

Produce an unambiguous Patron Restroom Policy for example “the station manager shall honor all patron requests to use the restroom except in those rare occasions when customer safety could be in jeopardy”

Since happens only on “rare occasions”(2),  when a request is denied, transit police should be notified and the incident (briefly) documented.

Policy should be posted where it can be viewed by all patrons.  This should include permanent, high quality signs at the stations, as well as clear statements in the metrorail system brochures (available at every station), in the small print of system maps and on the WMATA Web Site.
This should include permanent, high quality signs at the stations, as well as clear statements in the metrorail system brochures (available at every station), in the small print of system maps and on the WMATA Web Site.

Policy should be posted where it can be viewed by all patrons.  This should include permanent, high quality signs at the stations, as well as clear statements in the Metrorail system brochures (available at every station), in the small print of system maps and on the WMATA Web Site.

Since many potential riders no longer consider mass-transit an option because of restroom access uncertainties, advertise the Policy.   To increase ridership,  hesitant ‘potential’ patrons must feel confident that their requests to use a locked facility will always be quickly honored.   Increased Metrorail usage  improves our environment, reduces traffic congestion and increases Metro’s fare-take. More riders paying to use the system and the reduced need to steam-clean the System, may well offset any increased bathroom overhead.   A win for everyone!

Recommend the following additional future steps be considered…

To reduce Station Manager burden test an unlocked restroom.   The test plan, the test operation and results should be analyzed by a disinterested party.  Not immediately announcing the test would gradually increase usage which should allow O&M staff time to react.

Install a CCTV camera at any test locations without a sight-line to the station kiosk.

Consider restroom lock modification to allow swipe card access for patrons who could reasonably be expected to often need restroom access.    Many governmental and commercial entities use electronic access control to improve security.  Typically the recurring operation and maintenance cost is less than for mechanical systems that require re-keying.

Provide remote release (buzz-in) locks.  To preclude the need for a Station Manager to leave his post provide remote keyless entry similar to that used to open car or garage doors from a distance.

Install Restroom Advertising.  If patron usage increases to the point where it has a measurable  impact on cleaning costs, it has also reached a point where the facility has advertising value.   Based on typical returns at a restaurant, the four-stall woman’s restroom at Greenbelt Station would be expected to generate a return of $1500 to $2500 a year.  Click here for more information.

Implement an “Adopt a Restroom” Program.  Should the results of the trial indicate an overhead significantly greater than that faced by the restroom operations staff at Train Stations, Airports and at Shopping Malls, then consider volunteer assistance or commercial sponsorship. Metro stations, trains and buses carry advertisements, as could their restrooms.

Have toilets in multi-level parking garages.  The public restroom for Old-Town Alexandria is located adjacent to the attendant booth at the entrance to their municipal parking lot.  Maintenance of the facility is via a line-item in their parking concession contract.

Stations with large flat surface commuter parking, should have at least one discretely located chemical/portable toilet.  These stations are ‘transfer points’ for commuters who drive, take the bus, ride their bike or walk to the station. Many face a lengthy period without restroom on the the next leg of their commute.  They should not have to continue if they first need relief.

Weekly negotiated contract maintenance at a construction site with a single portable toilet is $17 (PSAI).

Additional support for the proffered recommendations can be found at Metroped’s Public Restroom Solutions Support Page.

  1. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
  2. Source: Ray Feldmann, WMATA Director, Media Relations via the Washington Post
  3. WMATA Board Meeting – Press Release
  4. WMATA Intrastate Compact

Media Coverage

Stage 3 – Opening Existing Station Restrooms

Bathroom decision not being followed   WTTG-TV FOX5 News   Aug 24 2005
Metro Glimpses a Flush of the Future   Washington Post  10/8/03
Metro looks at opening its restrooms Montgomery Journal Aug 12 03
Metro’s little-known amenities  Common Denominator Jul 15 03
Empty Stalls – There’s No Restroom for the weary Editorial, The Journal May 28, 2003
Metro sits tight on toilet policy The Journal Vol 65 #101

Stage 2 – Pilot Test of Self Cleaning Restrooms

If You Have to Go, Perhaps Soon You Can Go on Metro Washington Post  1/5/03
No Subway Pit Stops (Video)  WTTG-TV FOX5 News
D.C. Considers Public Subway Toilet ABC News 1/23/03
Relief in Site (Video)  WJLA-TV ABC7  1/6/03 Source:/wjla/metro0123.rm
Metro System Considers First Public Toilet  NEWS Channel 8  1/23/03
Station to Try Self-Cleaning Restroom  Washington Post 1/24/03 Pg B03
Metro examining public restrooms  The Journal Vol 65 #15
Metro restroom receives initial approval  The Journal Vol 65 #16
Relief is On the Way  Connection Newspapers 2/5/03
Trial-Run Toilet Planned For Metro Station  WUSA TV9  1/23/03
Metro Riders Get a Place to Go When Nature Calls  WTOP 10/08/2003

Stage 1 – Drumming up Public Support

Metro’s Not-So-Sweet Smell of Success  Washington Post  August 3, 2002  Page B01
Metro Pressured To Open Restrooms  WJLA-TV  ABC7  7/6/02
Metro Passengers’ Plight  Washington Post   7/6/02
Metro Asked To “Let Our People Go”  Associated Press via WTOP Radio  6/7/02
Public Restrooms Divide Agencies…  Urban Transport News  V30#16 P124
To Ride or Not to Ride. It’s Not Just a Traffic Question   Mount Vernon Gazette  8/7/02
Seeking Relief at the Metro  Mount Vernon Voice  Vol2#1
Metro System Considers First Public Toilet 1/6/03  News Channel 8

Media Coverage – Hispanic

Banos publicos para la dignidad  La Nacion USA Vol XII #1055
Piden acceso a banos en Metro   Washington Hispanic V14#8 3/8/03

Stories From the People

Sit Back, Relax, and Let Metrorail Get You There

Getting from Alexandria to Baltimore without the nuisance of driving through rush hour traffic seemed easy enough. All I needed to do was walk 15 minutes to the Braddock metro and stay on for about 50 minutes to the Greenbelt metro, then hop on the bus and enjoy the one hour leisurely ride to BWI. What I hadn’t anticipated was that at no point was there a public restroom. About halfway to Greenbelt I began to feel the uncomfortable fullness of my bladder. Believe me I was the first one off the train. Running up to the attendant I asked for the restroom and was told there wasn’t one. Hoping that I could make it to BWI without embarrassing myself.  I pulled my luggage outside and waited for the bus. The schedule said the bus arrived at 6:14 which meant 10 minutes. I was angry and in pain. The bushes began to look more and more welcoming.  Finally, in indignation, I rolled my suitcase back to the attendant and pleaded that it was an ” emergency.

I was again told that there was no public facility. Another worker outside of the kiosk caught the brunt of my complaints. Obviously there was a facility otherwise how could they work there all day. Wasn’t it interesting that my tax dollars paid for this system and I was being treated this way and on and on. What a picture I made, young woman in a business suit bending over holding her stomach area obviously in dire need of a toilet. Finally he told me I could use the employee restroom. He unlocked it and stood guard as I relieved myself then promptly locked it back. I was much relieved physically but not emotionally. I left this situation feeling degraded and humiliated. As I went back to the bus stop I noticed a man urinating on the bushes. Is it any wonder that half the metro stops smell of urine?”

“R. Kennedy, M.Ed.
Public Health Professional”

Pleading Works for 73 Year Old Woman

On June 13, I walked into the Gallery Place Metro station when I suddenly realized that I had to go to the bathroom NOW.  I had had a few prior experiences like that–maybe three in 10 years–and, each time, the stationmaster graciously let me use the bathroom.  So I was quite confident when I  approached the stationmaster who was in his enclosure. When I asked him to use the bathroom, he just shook his head “no.”  When I insisted more urgently, he pointed up the escalators as if to say that there were bathrooms up there.  Although I really knew that there are no public bathrooms in Metro, I went up the escalator, but realized that I did not have enough time to go to one of the restaurants across the street.

I went back down the escalator.  This time I said to the stationmaster:  “PLEASE, let me use the bathroom; I am having AN  EMERGENCY NOW.  He did, but very reluctantly.

This is the closest I have ever come to a bathroom disaster in public, and I am VERY frightened that it will happen again.  Of course, the episode was embarrassing and demeaning.   I am a 73 year-old female, but I still enjoy Imax and Wolftrap and the Kennedy Center.  I can certainly understand the problems and pitfalls of public restrooms,  but I hope that some solution can be found in DC.DBB  {Email to Metroped}

No Metro Facilities

A few weeks ago a friend and I took advantage of Metro no-fare subway rides (Transit Day) to check out the localities around stations we had never used. In general our experience with Metrorail was pleasant, with one exception.

I got angry, at first, with the kind of people who do these things. I’m now wondering why a major transit system has no restrooms, or at least portable toilets, near the parking lots…Washington Post June 19, 1998; Page A24 Section: OP/ED

Metrorail fails WW II Vet
Before Pop died, he visited at my suburban D.C. home. As a World War II pilot, he was anxious to see the Air and Space Museum. He had never used Metrorail, and seemed excited as we drove to the station. On the escalator, Pop said he’d hit the men’s room while I got the passes.

“Pop there are no restrooms”.  His face expressed disbelief.  “Ask the attendant, he might let you use his”.  He was too proud to ask, and looking much older, said, “We better head back.””R.Brubaker Advocate, Metroped

Support from Health Profressionals

From Cheryle Gartley, President of the Simon Foundation for Continence
Dear Mr. Graham:

I write to you today in my capacity as President of the Simon Foundation for Continence, an internationally recognized non-profit organization dedicated to serving people with incontinence – the loss of bladder and/or bowel control.  It is estimated that over 20 million Americans are affected by incontinence, a medical condition which does not discriminate by sex, race, age, wealth or social status.

In your upcoming role as Chair of the Metrorail Operations Board, I trust you are becoming well educated to the many health conditions such as benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH), prostate cancer, multiple sclerosis, paraplegia, irritable bowel syndrome, spinabifida and urinary tract infections, to name just a few, that demand ready access to a bathroom.  A ready access that is all too often denied – leading people to cope by remaining in their homes where they can be assured of reaching a bathroom in time.

It is my understanding that although Washington subway stations are equipped with significant toilet assets, current policy denies use of these facilities to riders.  I urge you to make changing this policy your number one priority.  For millions of Americans, access to a washroom is not a convenience, but rather the difference between getting out into the world and becoming a contributing member of society or remaining hidden at home.  By providing access to washrooms throughout the D.C. area, you will not only liberate friends, neighbors, and perhaps even family members, but also set an example for the rest of our nation to follow.

If I or any of the dedicated medical professionals on the Simon Foundation’s Board can provide you with medical information or further help in reaching this goal, please do not hesitate to call upon us.

Cheryle B. Gartley

From Ingrid Nygaard M.D., Co-author “Void Where Prohibited” (3)
I am a urogynecologist at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, and as such, spend my days trying to protect and improve women’s bladder health.  I write to you in your capacity as the chair of the Metrorail Operations Board.  Issues related to bathroom access are not widely discussed, but are integral to people’s ability to use public transportation.  Millions of Americans suffer from urinary incontinence, urinary urgency, urinary tract infections, and other diseases that require ready bathroom access in order to function well in society.  It is my understanding that current Washington subway station restrooms are available only for employees (obviously, also very important!) and urge you to work towards extending this same right to urinate to your passengers.  If I can provide you with any medical information about this issue, please feel free to email me.

Sincerely yours,
Ingrid Nygaard, MD
Associate Professor
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
University of Iowa

Support from Public Officials *** NEED PPT

Dana Kauffman, Fairfax County Supervisor and Chair WMATA Operations Board
Full support and active involvement, including Media discussions
Lead member of the WMATA Board

Gerry Hyland, Fairfax County Supervisor
Full support and active involvement, including in the media and as a liaison with State Officials

Chris Zimmerman, Arlington County Board,  Previous Chair of the WMATA Board
Was an early supporter, and he voted for the Pilot Test

Dr Ingrid Nygaard –  Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Univ Iowa College of Medicine
Broad Support – presented Metrorail case to American Urogynecologic Society NEED PPT in web format

Cheryle Gartley – President, Simon Foundation for Continence (Chicago Ill.)
Broad Support – Letter to the WMATA Board and via Washington Post interview

Cheryl Cort, Exec. Director of the Washington Regional Network for Livable Communities
Written Endorsement

Robert Milanchus, Exec. Director greater Wash, DC, chapter  Crohn’s Disease and Colitis Foundation
Endorsement via a newspaper interview

Allen Muchnick, President, Virginia Bicycle Federation
Provided initial advocacy guidance, policy paper recommendations and contacts

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth
Comprehensive support, including document content recommendation

Carlton Sickles, former U.S. Congressman and Chairman of WMATA’s Safety Committee
Spoke on the record about the need to solve the problem
Supported and voted for Pilot Restroom Test
Working with WMATA Rail Services Chief improve rider access to existing restrooms

Jim Graham,  District of Columbia Council Member and Chair of the WMATA Board
Voted for Pilot Test*, stated understanding of  why something had to be done during a  TV interview.

Gerry Connolly,  Fairfax County Supervisor, Candidate for Chairman of the Board
Supports the need for Restroom Signs

Sharon Bulova, Fairfax County Supervisor
Supports the need for Restroom Signs

Catherine Hudgins, Fairfax County Supervisor
Broad support

Kate Hanley, Chair, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
Coordinating with Chair of WMATA Operations Board

Doug Dugan,  County Executive  Montgomery County Executive
Transportation Specialist provides key support and recommendations

Toddy Puller, Virginia Senator
Request to State Building Code Administrator for support

Stuart Mendelsohn Fairfax County Supervisor

Broad Support

Discussions in the Washington Post Metro News Talk Forum
Subject: Restrooms for Metro
From: (PDSK8R) DateTime: 7/8/2002 7:15:16 AM
I was pleased to see the Washington Post article about the lack of public restrooms in the Washington Metro System. It is a shame that a world-class metro system has ignored the fact that humans have a natural need to use the restroom. I often walk long distances to get from place to place but depending on time and distance I use Metro as part of the trip. Depending on the how long I walk, it would be great to know that the Metro restroom is definitely available before I start a train ride.

From:(SAMMI22204) DateTime: 7/8/2002 10:28:10 AM
I have a bus stop at my door with several routes. Great service. I am one mile from a Metro station. The price is right. This is the reason I live where I do. However, twice I needed a rest room bad and was denied. Left the station and had a problem finding a restroom. I no longer use Metro. I drive.  I realize there is a safety factor. And a cleaning problem. Perhaps there could be an attendant during off hours. Safety wouldn’t be such a factor at rush hour as there would be a lot of people present. … …   Store and Malls provide toilets and manage some how. Metro should find a way.

From: (DOUGWILL) DateTime: 7/8/2002 12:31:43 PM
Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area was planned to have a more comprehensive transportation plan featuring a network of grade separated rail transit and highways, cir. 1962. Yet instead of building both, only the rail transit system was built up, with the highway network left truncated, under the belief that the rail system could essentially serve the purpose of both.   Despite this, a few apparently feel that Metro rail passengers should be treated like cattle and have no restroom access.  (Granted that private automobiles also lack restroom facilities, but at least one might be able to pull into a service station or restaurant to buy a cup of Coffee or tea, or bottled water and use the facilities, instead of being trapped for their entire trip upon the network of choice).

From: (RUSSIANWOLF) DateTime: 7/8/2002 2:31:54 PM
But I have been on a train that stopped in the middle of a bridge (orange line to New Carrolton) for nearly an hour. If I did have to pee, it would have gotten messy in that car. I think they should have toilets on the trains as well as (usable) ways to travel between cars so only two or three cars would need a toilet.

From: (EDGIBBON) DateTime: 7/9/2002 3:15:35 PM
I thought everyone knew that there had to be restrooms somewhere in each Metro station. There are regulations, I’m sure, that employees have to be provided with restroom facilities. Ever notice the permanently installed ‘portable’ toilets near parking lot kiosks that are far from other facilities? Same reason why construction workers have portable toilets everywhere they work. Metro can’t have a policy of making employees use restrooms in the nearby restaurants or gas stations, whatever may be the policy for riders.   When my daughter was two or three, we were traveling towards home on the Metro after shopping and eating at Pentagon City. Sure enough, halfway home she had to go. (My first child — I had not yet learned to *always* take children to the restroom before starting any activity where restrooms are hard to find.) I could tell it was for real. We stopped at one of the stations along the way, asked the Station Manager, and were ushered to a large, clean restroom. A beautiful sight at the time. The Metro people were nice enough, but given the circumstances what choice did they have? They could either let me take my kid to the restroom or run the risk of having to clean the floor after her.

From: (ELZISS) DateTime: 7/9/2002 1:10:22 PM
Thank you for addressing this issue. Until I read the story, I didn’t know that there were restrooms in the metro stations that the public could use even for emergencies. I wish I had… On the 4th of July, I volunteered at the Folklife Festival all day. It had been hot, humid and sunny, and by the time I left, around 6 PM, I was feeling ill from the heat. On the train, I began to feel worse, with a headache, clamminess and rising nausea. I was afraid I was going to throw up, but what could I do–no restrooms (I thought) and no trash containers on the platform b/c of security. I thought I could make it home, but was sick just as the train pulled into Grosvenor. If I had known there were restrooms, I would have got off and insisted they let me use one.  Having controlled access to toilets is a family-friendly, tourist-friendly to do, and would help get people out of their cars. I understand the concerns about safety, maintenance etc. but those problems can be solved if there is the will to do it.

From: (RUSSIANWOLF) DateTime: 7/8/2002 2:31:54 PM
But I have been on a train that stopped in the middle of a bridge (orange line to New Carrolton) for nearly an hour. If I did have to pee, it would have gotten messy in that car. I think they should have toilets on the trains as well as (usable) ways to travel between cars so only two or three cars would need a toilet.

From: (SHEALYNC) DateTime: 7/6/2002 10:50:43 AM
People with special needs should be issued a card by Metro to use the restrooms. This would include people with Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel and handicapped all with physician certification.

From: (ARCURLYQ) DateTime: 7/6/2002 12:26:13 PM
My initial thought is that restrooms in the stations is a wonderful idea. I have had to leave a station I am waiting at several times because nature called…and I am a healthy, 23 year-old woman. I cannot imagine what it would be like for a person who is disabled or has a medical condition that would not allow them to run (as I have) to a restroom outside the station. However, when I think about the possibilities of what could happen in a metro restroom, I have to admit that I would be reluctant to use one if it was open to the public. I could easily see women being attacked and raped in a somewhat secluded restroom.

Based on the many employees I have encountered thus far in the Metro system, I am reluctant to believe that any one of them would be skilled or diligent enough to provide adequate additional security. I think the best thing would be to keep the system as it is, but to make a more strict policy about how Metro employees are to handle situations when passengers request the use of restrooms. No one should be made to feel embarrassed or afraid to ask to use a bathroom in an emergency. No person should be refused this option and Metro employees should be held accountable if they do not let a passenger relieve themselves when requested. I think this issue is more about employee training and having enough Metro staff present to assist passengers in situations like these. I mean, many of us pay quite a bit of money each month to ride the Metro to and from work or school (or both in my case). Shouldn’t we be able to ride in comfort?

From: (LETSROK) DateTime: 7/6/2002 6:29:55 PM
I do not ride the metro because it does not provide a bathroom. I suffer from ‘irritable bowel’ and cannot go anywhere unless I know where a bathroom can be located or can be accessed immediately. What if security cameras were placed by the doors and monitored by a central office? That way if any kind of trouble arose, the station personnel could respond. It’s too bad that we live in a city of animals who we all have to watch out for that prevents us from providing the facilities that some of us need.

From: (HNORC) DateTime: 7/6/2002 4:28:05 PM
This is an interesting story, and one that has really never crossed my mind in the many years I have been riding Metro. I think a reasonable and sensible solution can be found. I do not want the system to turn into NYC’s, but there are those who have a truly legitimate need to relieve themselves. Personal dignity is what is important, so Metro needs to find a solution to this problem. The idea of selling passes, or letting the station manager be flexible in who receives the key are good starts.

From: (JAKEARNOLD) DateTime: 7/7/2002 8:51:34 AM
… to the person who said ‘they plan ahead and go the restroom before they leave’. I suspect many of the same half million riders are also good planners but with that many riders some of them are someday going to have a serious problem and the last thing they need is a station managers who “might” say !NO!. That same half million has to include some people who just need to go to the bathroom often. How do they plan if the trip between bathrooms takes longer then what ever problem they have will allow.

From:(LYRIA2) DateTime: 7/7/2002 8:59:20 AM
The MARC train has bathrooms in the actual trains, and Union Station has quite a few restrooms. These are fairly clean, not disgusting or foul smelling. Of course, with Metro, it is easy to get off the train, leave the station, use a nearby restroom, and then get back on the train within a reasonable period of time. It’s not possible to do that with MARC.

From: (HAPPYFEET41) DateTime: 7/7/2002 12:48:50 PM
Originally, there appeared to be no clearcut policy from Metro about public use of the bathrooms. I have been allowed to use the bathrooms, I have also been told that they don’t have bathrooms and I have also been told that they had bathrooms but not for the public.  I personally don’t have a medical condition that would warrant me having to use the bathroom often. So, either way does not bother me, but Metro needs to have a clearcut policy on public use of their bathrooms. One needs to know on how to plan for the ride…

From:(BOBJONES80) DateTime: 7/7/2002 1:48:09 PM
I am a diabetic and am at times symptomatic which means I don’t get a lot of warning when I have to use the bathroom. I absolutely refuse to use our pathetic subway system for this exact reason. I needed to use the restroom very badly (having just gotten off of the train) once when I was at the East Falls Church station. I asked the Metro guy if I could please use the restroom. He replied that there wasn’t one. I told him my situation and he said ‘Look I told you I don’t have one’ I think you can guess what happened. I will never ride this very poor excuse for a mass transportation system. I think it should be either improved or just closed up. I have no idea why Va. and Md. pump any more money into it. …

From: (JAKEARNOLD) DateTime: 7/7/2002 4:14:02 PM
Your right, Metro system is to provide the things you mention for the reason you mention. They also intended to provide it for everyone not just those in good health. That’s why there are restrooms and why the station manager was to suppose to unlock the restroom for riders that needed it. Did you see the picture on the front page of the metro section. That’s a large restroom! All of our tax’s paid for it (and still are). According to that Metro spokesman the Post quoted they expected the station managers to only deny access in rare occasions. So your actually right, those original designers knew what they were doing, …

From: (BLZINPUBLK) DateTime: 7/11/2002 7:43:49 PM
My blood pressure medication sometimes acts like a diuretic. I limit my fluid intake in the mornings, but sometimes I still get sudden or frequent strong urges. I’m glad I don’t take Metro to work, and for this reason, wouldn’t if I could….

Excerpts from WMATA Press Release

March 18th 2004

According to the following WMATA Press Release, temporarily, patrons of Metrorail will not be allowed to use station restrooms based on a threat assessment.   Hopefully this ‘temporary’ condition will be quickly lifted, but there is reason for concern.  The arguments in the Press Release are the same security arguments vetted by the WMATA Board last October.   The Board voted to allow patrons to use the restrooms but the security argument led them to keep the restroom doors locked and the under control of the Station Manager.

WMATA’s expressed concern for customer safety is difficult to challenge.  Security experts have described the serious threat posed by backpacks or luggage left on a train.  If the threat is not serious enough to preclude backpacks then it is questionable why patrons are no longer allowed to be escorted to the locked restrooms.

Metro to Purchase Additional Security-Related Equipment, Modify Some Operating Procedures, Promote Customer and Employee Vigilance Following Train Bombings in Madrid

… Metro officials also announced that starting tomorrow (Friday, March 19), its station restrooms will no longer be available for public use for the safety of its customers. In October 2003, Metro officials opened
the doors to the station restrooms for public use. However those restrooms were never designed for public access and most are located in private corridors adjacent to machine rooms where someone with access to those areas could hide an explosive device.

Metro Transit Police will close public access to some or all station restrooms for a period of up to 30 dayswhenever the national alert level is elevated to Orange or above; when a specific threat to rail systems is shared with Metro by the FBI, Federal Transit Administration, Department of Homeland Security or other federal agency; or when domestic or worldwide terrorism or other related events warrant
increased vigilance. Public access to station restrooms will return when those threat levels and concerns are lowered.

“After September 11, 2001, we removed trash bins from our station platforms because they could potentially be used by someone to hide an explosive device,” explained Chief Hanson. “In carefully assessing the bombings in Madrid, it is obvious that closing our restrooms is a smart and logical step to further protect our customers and employees from possible terrorists acts. Our customers understood why we removed the trash bins. They will also understand the importance of our needing to close access to the restrooms. Safety first. Their safety.” …


Additional Information from the Associated Press
WMATA Public Restroom and APT Staff Review

In Brief
Washington Post – Washington,DC,USA
… representing Fairfax County, wants to move the toilet to the Orange Line’s Vienna station, one of five where riders are not allowed to use restrooms because of …

Worksheet Material

Unlike our Malls, our Train Stations, and our Airports, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail Station Restrooms are kept locked.  WMATA advises patrons-in-need to obtain permission from individual Station Managers.  WMATA expects that in almost all cases the station manager will honor a customers request to use the facilities. (photos of large Metrorail restroom).

Many attendees at  ‘Safe Crossings’ meetings are frequent users of mass transit.  Based on casual  discussion with them and others,  it appears…

Those using a wheel chair and those with stomach distress always receive the OK;
Those who appear healthy, often do not.
Occasionally pregnant women and moms with children have been denied.
Many seniors, particularly women, would rather suffer then ask.
Some riders avoid fluids hours before taking Metrorail, even when contraindicated by a medical condition.
WMATA Metrorail Station Restroom Policy as practiced appears to violate

WMATA Restroom Policy, as practiced by a significant percentage of their station managers , is at variance with good public Public Health, and apparently with Metrorail Policy itself.

Medical studies show the importance of regular urination, with women generally needing to void more frequently than men. Adverse health effects that may result from voluntary urinary retention include increased frequency of urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can lead to more serious infections and, in rare situations, renal damage (see, e.g., Nielsen, A. Waite, W., “Epidemiology of Infrequent Voiding and Associated Symptoms,” Scand J Urol Nephrol Supplement 157). UTIs during pregnancy have been associated with low birthweight babies, who are at risk for additional health problems compared to normal weight infants (see, Naeye, R.L., “Causes of the Excess Rates of Perinatal Mortality and the Prematurity in Pregnancies Complicated by Maternity Urinary Tract Infections,” New England J. Medicine 1979; 300(15); 819-823). Medical evidence also shows that health problems, including constipation, abdominal pain, diverticuli, and hemorrhoids, can result if individuals delay defecation (see National Institutes of Health (NJH) Publication No. 95-2754, July 1995). Source:  29 CFR 1910.141(c)(1)(i)

At some level of urgency, pain and the fear of embarrassment overcome a commuter’s desire to remain civil.  Forcing a commuter to use station locations not designed for relief and with no wash facilities results in more then just unpleasant odor, it risks the spread of infection.  Additional information American Society for Microbiology.

Terrorist Security Concerns

Metrorail restrooms have been locked since 1976, which makes it difficult to determine which stations restroom are being access controlled as a response to 9/11.   BART station restrooms have been open to the public since 1972.   Immediately after 9/11 all BART restrooms where closed.  After a few weeks the restrooms at the above ground stations were reopened.   In 1995 is was learned that Japanese terrorists planned to insert time release gas devices in restroom paper towel racks.   Japan replaced paper towels dispensers with hand dryers and removed trash cans.   They added chemical alarm sensors to the restrooms and placed CCTV cameras at the entrances.   Until these changes are made at the WMATA stations, and based on BART’s action,  there appears to be a legitimate security justification to keep underground stations restrooms, locked.


See Also the Position Paper.

While limited to the workplace, OSHA has clearly defined the public health risk of denying access to people in need.  The National Park Service recognizing the need, is able to deal with the cost and other concerns of keeping public faculties open year-round.  Metrorail should adopt the same level of concern for it’s patrons.

It appears from comments made to the Washington Post, that Metrorail’s actual Policy is to honor all legitimate requests to use their restrooms.  Therefore, at a minimum Metrorail should …

  • Clarify Metrorail Station Policy so that station managers understand that no request from a customer is denied. (Adults will not ask unless in urgent need.)
    To increase ridership, make this policy clearly known to customers.
    To prevent non-compliance by Station Managers and to inform those new to the system, post station restroom Policy in a public area at every station.

Future Considerations

  • To minimize staff impact, allow pre-approved Metrorail patrons, swipe-card access to station toilets or allow patrons to be buzzed in.
  • Stations with parking should have at least one discretely placed chemical toilet.
  • Where current restrooms are located above ground, are visible from the station managers kiosk, and the bathroom entrance is located before any other doors, move (or remove) the first lockable door.  (This could be done on a ‘trial basis’ at a few stations with large restrooms)

All future Stations should be designed with Public Restrooms

  • To mitigate security concerns, employ blocked site-site line door-less entrances
    Provide video and audio surveillance of entrance
    Add gas/sensor alarms with automated restroom HVAC shutdown control
    Have no paper towel racks or trash bins. (mploy air dryers)

Support and Background

WMATA support for ‘No Public Facilities’ Policy

Based on phone questions over a three year period, before the Sept 11 attack,  WMATA Public Affairs gave two general answers for not having Public Restrooms, including outside chemical toilets at the stations with commuter parking

Maintenance cost (most often mentioned)
Fear of use by vagrants.
Since Sept 11th safety and security has become the reason for not accommodating patron needs.

Phone requests for a written position have not been satisfied, however a recent WRC-TV “Ask Liz”  documents their current position

Q: I would like to know how come Metro does not have public restrooms at the subway stations?

A: We called metro for your answer. It says there have never been restrooms in subway stations because it would be very hard to patrol restrooms to ensure public safety and security. And it says in light of September 11th events, public restrooms would pose enormous problems for metro …

Public Facilities Policy of other Subway Systems

A Survey of other American Subways Systems found American Subway Systems that address the needs of those needing restroom to be in the majority.  San  Francisco’s BART closed all station restrooms immediately after 9-11, but has since re-opened many.

Of particular interest is San Francisco’s BART.   WMATA’s limited restrooms access was somewhat modeled on BART.   BART now provides Restroom Access and is planning restroom as part of their upgrades.  BART stations continue undergoing substantial renovation with new and refurbished lighting systems, landscaping, irrigation systems,  restrooms, and platforms.

Prepared for the NYC Council, page 6 of  A Survey of Public Restrooms in New York City  dtd Aug 2001 highlights as a serious deficiency the 21% of NVCT’s 74 subways stations restrooms that are not available to the public.

To increase ridership San Diego Association of Governments Directors and their Metropolitan Transit Development Board unanimously agreed to purchase 33 customer-friendly buses equipped with restrooms.

MetroPed Web Pages Relevant to Metrorail Facilities Policy

“Who’s affected – why should we care” documents physical or medical problems that make Mass Transit in the DC Metro Area onerous for some patrons.   Potential mass transit commuter stick to their car knowing they are in control in case they have a ‘bad bathroom day’.

Where are Public Restrooms Needed  (first two paragraphs) further documents the problem.
WMATA Typical Suburban Commuter Transit Time
NO METRO FACILITIES Washington Post June 19, 1998; Page A24 Section: OP/ED

Anecdotal Support

Fairfax County Social Service recipients requiring medical care are often sent to the INOVA Fairfax Hospital.   For recipients in the Mt Vernon area this requires a Bus trip to Huntington Station, a transfer from the Yellow to Orange Line then a bus trip from Dunn Lorring Station to the Hospital.   With no transit problems it requires a 1-1/2 to 2 hour trip without restrooms.   Many patients suffer,  particularly the elderly and pregnant women.
Source: Ken Disselkoen, Fairfax County Regional Manager for Human Services.

Many recent immigrants, and the indigent living in the Mount Vernon Area of the Route 1 corridor must often resolve legal problems by using mass transit to travel to the Fairfax Court House.  Many of these people have medical problems that require frequent toilet access.  The 2-1/2 hour (bus-metrorail-bus) trip requires them to choose between their personnel health or that of the public.
Source: Laura Derbie, Admn Mngr Rising Hope Church,  Staff politically and media astute.  They organize rallies, testify before congress, and have been covered by PBS.

Public and Government Agencies capable of influencing Metrorail Policy
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors
Northern Virginia Transit Commission Rick Taube & Alfred Titius-Glover  703 524-3322
Virginia Dept of Rail Transit Tanya Husick   703-934-4636

ADVOCACY GROUPS (Indicating interest in resolving Metrorail facilities deficiency)

Coalition for Smarter Growth   Steward Swartz    Nicola Wood  (202) 588-5570


American Association of Retired People
National Association of Retired Federal Employees
National Association for Continence

Press Coverage based on the ‘Public Restroom Initiative’

Communities want to add restrooms to downtowns  Visitors frustrated by lack of facilities  By George Hunter / The Detroit News
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Interstate Compact

Video – Need for Metrorail Restrooms )

Video – Metrorail Restroom Signs )

“When Nature Calls” Video (2:51) 10/8/03 – Beth Parker WTTG-TV FOX 5 News Washington, DC
Broadband Video | 56K Modem Video

Subway Commuter Transit Time
Example #1 – Huntington Station to Metro Center

One of WMATA’s large and popular commuter parking lots is Huntington near Alexandria VA.   For a typical commuter to get to Downtown DC (Metro Center) typically requires

10 – 20 minutes to Drive to the station parking Lot(1)
4 minutes to walk from main parking to train entry area
12 minutes longest wait for yellow line train(2)(4)
23 minutes train ride(2)(4)
12 minutes longest wait for redline train(2)(4)
2 minutes train ride to Metro Center(2)(3)(4)
5 minute walk to nearest Office Building

68 – 78 Total –  House to Office transit time

While most commuters easily handle these transit intervals, they are best-case times.  During system failure or increment weather, commuters who are not otherwise ‘restroom challenged’ suddenly face the ‘urgent need’ crisis that a few commuters face frequently.
(1)  No Station Facilities.  No portable toilet in the parking lot.
(2)  When system is working properly. (There are frequent delays)
(3)  WMATA Main Station, Metro Center, has no public facilities
(4) WMATA Metrorail Time Table



Contact Us

American Restroom Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 21237
Catonsville, MD 21228

Phone:  800-247-3864

An independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 2004

MEDIA: Let us connect you with the best expert to support your news and media projects.

INVENTORS, MANUFACTURERS, SUPPLIERS, & SERVICE PROVIDERS: We want to hear your stories about how you are leading change in restroom design and maintenance!

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