SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle-area transit officials are making it clear that when bus drivers gotta go, they are free to stop.
The state Department of Labor and Industries fined King County Metro $3,500 on Wednesday for failing to provide bus drivers with unrestricted access to restrooms. Drivers, men and women alike, told investigators disturbing stories about using coffee cups and bottles to relieve themselves because they felt pressure to stick to their scheduled routes, department spokesman Tim Church said Saturday.
"Some told us there were — I'm looking for the right word here — urine-soaked driver's seats because they felt they had no other alternative," Church said.
Drivers have been disciplined for running late because of time spent using or searching for a bathroom, the citation noted.
In a written statement Friday, Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond acknowledged the problem, saying "We take this basic need seriously," and promised to fix it. He reiterated that bus drivers have the right to stop to use a restroom, and he said the agency will try to find more restrooms for drivers to use along their routes.
Metro operates about 200 bus routes in Seattle and around the county, and it has a network of about 280 bathrooms. The agency owns about 50 of them, and some are in public buildings. But the majority are in private businesses, Desmond said.
"We are creating an action plan to identify gaps within this network and work to fill those gaps by identifying locations and creating agreements for use of restroom facilities," he said. "A Metro staff person will ensure the ongoing availability of restrooms along all of our routes and will work directly with operators to make sure their needs are met."
The drivers are provided with lists of where the restrooms are, but Church said some of the facilities were too far from their routes to use. In other cases, drivers would stop at a listed restroom only to find that it was out of order, that someone was sleeping in it, or that they would be required to buy something from a business before being allowed to use it.
Church called it a serious health issue as well as one of dignity: Drivers could suffer urinary tract or bladder infections from lack of restroom access. "These folks were owed the access to a restroom under the law," he said.
Metro reduced break times for drivers a few years ago to cut costs, Desmond noted. Seattle voters this month approved additional money for bus service, and that should help ensure drivers get the break time they need, he said.
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