Metro Board to consider motions involving restrooms, parking and paying fares at transit stations

Motions involving bathrooms at transit stations (or lack thereof), parking at transit stations (or lack thereof) and fares on the Orange Line (or lack of people actually paying for them) have all found their way onto the agenda for the Metro Board of Directors meeting this Thursday.

In particular, the bathroom and parking issues are brought up on a regular basis by readers here and, quite frankly, are also core service issues that most large transit agencies grapple with at some time or another.

Let me be blunt. None of these issues are going to be solved at this Board meeting. As you will see below, each motions call for more study and/or reports from Metro staff. That said, motions are sometimes the beginning of a process.

Obviously the motion is keyed to some specific issues that have arisen near the Orange Line’s Pierce College station. But bathrooms and transit stations have a long, tangled history that is still, of course, being written.

Bathrooms at transit stations are in many cities a thing of the past, mostly for reasons involving maintenance and safety, although some BART and New York Subway stations have restrooms. Here’s an excerpt from a 2010 amNewYork story on bathrooms in the subway system:

Of the open bathrooms, a third were frightening caverns of garbage, urine, standing water or unseemly smells. Odors from the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd. station on the N caused an amNewYork reporter to feel faint during a recent visit.

“They’re pretty disgusting. People are always cleaning themselves in there and doing other stuff,” said Kelvin Pau, 27, a rider using the 168 St. A station, which reeked.

Don’t expect to find toilet paper or soap, as few of the bathrooms had either. And while graffiti has largely been eliminated from subway stations, it lives on in the bathrooms, as many of the walls and stalls were covered in tags.

Keeping the bathrooms tidy and open is a challenge because they are constantly being vandalized or attract “criminal activity,” Seaton said.

Metro has three transit stations with restrooms: Union Station, El Monte Station and Harbor Gateway. The vast majority do not.

Restrooms in transit stations is a subject that has been written about a lot. Here’s a good article about the issue from the Atlantic Cities blog. It will be interesting to see how Metro staff responds to this one, as building more restrooms and then maintaining and patrolling them would be a major undertaking.

One of the key features — and one often heavily promoted — of bus rapid transit is the ability for riders to pay their fares before getting on the bus. The idea is to expedite loading instead of having people line up at the fare box on the bus. As every rider knows, buses are slowed by many things, among them traffic, frequent stops and people lining up on the bus to pay their fare.

Thus, the interestingness of this motion, which implies that off-bus payment isn’t working as well as it should.

There is, of course, a related issue here: everyone is supposed to tap at validators when boarding a bus or rail line. Validators have been moved and/or added at some rail stations to make it easier for riders and to make them more convenient. It sounds like that could be an issue here.

My best guess is that some of the people not tapping have actually paid for passes on their TAP card. That’s good. But here’s the thing, people: The Sheriff’s Deputies that patrol Metro’s system can, and will, cite those who don’t TAP. The rule is passengers are supposed to pay their fares and TAP their cards to ride the system.

Another issue I’ve long found fascinating (in a geeky kind of way): parking at rail stations. There’s a twist here because NoHo serves as the terminus for both the Red Line subway and Orange Line busway and is also a major transfer point on the Metro system.

In some ways, parking at transit stations is a collision of two different ideals. On the one hand, many people want to use transit stations to promote walkability, cycling and denser urban environments. But that’s hard to do when the station is surrounded by a giant parking garage or several football fields of parking.

On the other hand, the aforementioned parking lots are proof positive that parking does attract ridership at some stations and that parking may be a solution to  the first-mile, last-mile problem.

Complicating matters is that many stations seem to do fine with no dedicated parking or very limited parking.

And thus the conundrum: which stations are and are not appropriate for dedicated parking? The standard thus far seems to be dictated by the station’s environment, with the more “suburban” stations getting more parking. That makes sense, but also raises another question: where do you draw the line on how much parking to provide?

My answer: I don’t know! I do know that as a Gold Line rider I have several ways to get to stations near my house: walking, cycling, getting a ride, taking a bus or driving. Anyone care to guess which I do the most often? 🙂

I can’t write about parking at rail stations without bringing this up: the nine-mile Purple Line Extension will have seven new stations between Wilshire/Western and the final station at the VA Hospital in Westwood. None will have parking.

It’s certainly no secret and Metro planners talked quite a bit about that decision during the environmental review process. The big problem with parking involved the paucity of affordable real estate along Wilshire Boulevard in which to build lots and garages. There is also the issue that installing more parking along Wilshire is not exactly the best use of land in what is already a dense urban environment.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on any of these motions and related issues. The motions are good because they address specific concerns that have arisen on the system — and also open the door to the kind of big issues that all transit agencies must consider and revisit from time to time.

37 replies

  1. I park at Universal City on a daily basis. Because I tend to arrive after 9, I park in the large lot at the corner of Ventura and Campo de Cahuenga. It’s a fairly long walk from that lot to the train, so it would be nice to have a large parking structure close to the station instead.

    It would also be good if Metro would charge for this parking, possibly eliminating or reducing the charge for those with passes. This is especially true at UC where the signs probably don’t discourage people from walking from the lot to Universal.

  2. Quite frankly, even portable restrooms such as those that you might find in parks and construction sites could fit the bill. The portable restrooms at El Monte Station, prior to the completion of the new terminal, were arguably more convenient than the fancy “Exeloo” facilities, because they take less time to get ready and because you can provide more of them. That way you have a place to go for emergencies while discouraging people from camping in them – set them up with a camera trained at the entrance. For about $100 a month you could solve 90% of the problem.

    On the fares on the Orange Line, it should be noted that the Silver Line does not have off board fare payment yet is considered BRT. It can be confusing for some people to recognize the Orange Line has different fare payment than every other bus in the system. Plus is it much harder to enforce, and the validators are not in the path of travel but are placed side by side which is really odd. Adding validators on the buses themselves (without fareboxes) and removing the stand alone validators and recycling them for the future rail projects will add consistency between buses, while eliminating most of the wait with the fare purchasing process.

  3. Keeping restrooms clean is a continuous problem. The one at the east portico smelled so bad the last time I attempted to use it was disgraceful. And it’s not just the public restroom that are impossible to keep clean. Employee restrooms at some of the terminals are disgusting as well.

  4. I agree with the idea of not building parking at the Wilshire Red Line stations – as you say, in that dense urban environment, it’s probably not the best use of space. Parking along Wilshire is already at an (expensive) premium. Trying to keep non-transit riders from using any Metro lot would be a nightmare. However, especially more towards the end-of-the-line stations, parking does seem to work – sort of like commuter rail. Again, though, I’d like to see a charge for it. Maybe people could add a parking pass to their TAP card?

  5. “Keeping the bathrooms tidy and open is a challenge because they are constantly being vandalized or attract “criminal activity,” Seaton said.”

    Perhaps Metro needs to analyze the reasons why stations become a magnet for criminal activity. Lack of police officers? Lack of retail and businesses? What sets a train station apart from a shopping mall or an airport terminal?

  6. My take on freeloading is that the punishment is too light, that’s why people do it. So what happens if you get caught freeloading? You get slapped with a fine. Big deal. There are so many ways to fight the charge or evade paying fines altogether. People are not required to show ID to ride Metro and it will never be. Neither is there a requirement for them to identify themselves to an officer if they are caught. Contrary to belief, a fine is not a punishment. It’s used as bail payment and admitting guilt. If you decide to fight it, you pay the “fine” (bail) and chances are high that the cop who wrote you that ticket isn’t even going to show up in court on the trial date so the judge dismisses the case altogether. Getting away with a fine is too easy. What you think judges and our court system (which have their own funding problems too) is really going to spending bazillions of dollars to go after $100 worth of fines?

    I say that freeloading should be treated like a crime. Freeloading is stealing because you’re getting something (a ride) for free when you should’ve paid. Doesn’t matter how “cheap” it is, you steal 99 cent worth of tacos at Jack In The Box, it’s still stealing. The same thing with Metro rides, if you don’t pay the $1.50, you are a criminal!

    Therefore, instead of punishing freeloaders with fines, freeloading has to become criminalized and treated as a more serious offense like a misdemeanor charge with mandatory community service on top of a fine.

  7. That would be an interesting idea… Charge for parking, but payable only with a TAP card. Maybe increase the parking fee if the TAP card hasn’t been used for transit during that day. Like, it’s a dollar to park if you actually rode the Red Line, but ten dollars if you didn’t (and are only using the parking for Universal Studios)

  8. On public conveniences, well, it depends on the location.

    The Hollywood/Highland Red Line Station is directly below a mostly-open-air shopping mall that has a number of public restrooms, and so there’s no need to provide dedicated facilities.

    The Union Station Red/Purple and Gold Line stations are similarly part of a public train station that has plenty of public restrooms of its own.

    The 7th/Metro station, on the other hand, is a very bad place to feel Nature’s unavoidable call. If one arrives at the wrong time, particularly late at night, one could be stuck there for a half-hour layover. If nothing else, a policy of making the crew restroom available to the public on a case-by-case basis would be helpful.

    But I think the long-term solution would be something on the order of the JCDecaux “Sanisette” that has become not only ubiquitous in Paris, but also common in San Francisco (I note that there’s one at the Bay & Taylor Cable Car Turntable, as well as one just outside the Coit Tower), Palo Alto, Seattle, and many U.S. cities.

    On the matter of parking, it seems to me that for the most part, MetroRail parking is spot-on. And I resist the idea of charging to park, especially at stations like Wardlow, which is very much a gateway from Orange County into the Metro system. It’s unfortunately hard enough as it is to convince my fellow Orange County residents of how much cheaper, easier, and safer it is to ride Metro from the Wardlow station than to drive into Downtown or Hollywood, and then pay parking. If there was a charge to park at Wardlow, I would still take Metro to museums and concerts, because I know that the gas costs more than a day-pass, and that parking at the venue is far more expensive, but it would be that much harder to gain converts.

  9. One thing that is think is often missing with respect to vandalism on public transit is asking why do people do this? What is the root cause?

    What is it about our culture that people feel that it’s ok to deface public infrastracture whether it be a train, station, or public restroom?

    I’m always pleasantly impressed when I visit Asia (namely, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan), and NONE of the subways or trains ever have any type of graffiti. The public restrooms are always immaculate. I’m always ashamed when Asian visitors come here and see our third-world public restrooms.

    Why is it that people here lack the same respect towards public infrastructure?

  10. Restrooms are almost always a bad idea. They will do more harm than good on the orange line.

    I think Metro can fix or improve the fare evasion on the orange line with some wayfinding and TAP Validators, but this kind of just goes back to the fundamental problems with the TAP system.

    Providing more parking like a proper parking garage at NoHo and especially Universal is a good idea. Universal is right off the 101 to lure people away from the freeway.

  11. Also, the walk from studio city to Universal station is THE WORST. Having to go over the stupid 101 bridge sucks and for sure turns people off from walking to the station. Having to cross a a freeway entrance on foot is a terrible experience and sucks walking and biking to Universal station.

  12. The lack of public toilets is a problem not limited to Metro. Has the city of LA considered open air urinals? Downtown could smell much less disgusting.

  13. Fast food outlets’ restrooms are in better shape than public restrooms. Why can Carl’s Jr. keep their restrooms in order while Metro can’t even keep Union Station’s restrooms in order?

  14. If you’ve ever seen/been in the El Monte Restrooms, you’d know why Metro’s riders and public cannot be trusted on large scale usage.

  15. Craig,

    The Asian transit model is built with for-profit in mind from the start. They are privatized corporations that are listed on their stock exchanges and are entrusted by the public and shareholders alike to make profit for the common good which is in stark contrast to how any other US transit agency operates. And what do these Asian transit corporations do when they make profit? They don’t keep it to themselves like greedy Americans. Instead, they actually put those profits right back into the system to keep the place neat, clean, and tidy and also hire extra security to keep the places safe.

    That’s the key difference. In Asia, people work together for the common good and they trust the powers that be to re-invest the profits right back into the system for the good of society.

    America on the other hand, is a me, me, me society where profits never go back to help society, they are used to further their greed and power. Just look at all those greedy unions we have in our government system. None of the US transit agencies fail or even attempt to make profit and they keep raising our taxes more, majority of which goes to fund their overly generous pension and benefit plans, while leaving almost nothing back to re-investing in the system. If all the money is gone to fund pensions, nothing is left to hire extra security and hire janitors to keep proper upkeep of transit.

  16. There are several portable toilets at the Fifth and Boyal bus terminal. They have been there for over thirty years. They smell as if they haven’t been serviced in those thirty years. A way to solve the problem however would be to install 25 cent pay toilets. There is one I know of adjacent to the SAnta Monica/ Vermont Red Line station. After each use it automaticly cleans it self. Also if someone tries to camp out in them i believe they also get cleaned.

  17. I do believe that the fare evasion problem on the orange line can be stopped by adding gates forcing people to tap before they enter. Adding fare boxes to buses will only slow the line down due to the amount of riders, as such experienced on the silver line.

  18. There are not enough TAP card validators at NoHo Orange Line Station. When 300 people hit the station at once, Two validators are not enough. If you wait in line to tap, you may miss the bus to Warner Center and you have to wait another ten minutes.

    The problem is even worse on the Rapid Lines. People have to wait in line for the passengers to pub money in the fare box and the driver to push many buttons to load the day pass.

    I wonder can Metro use the smart cards with a radio frequency chip in them, This could reduce the need to add more validators on the Orange Line and people who have valid passes and cash in the tap cards can go through without having to pause in front of the fare box. These passengers can also use the rear doors to get on the bus.

  19. Parking Parking Parking at Blue Line Del Amo station. Walkability is not an option there, and riding my bike there is no picnic. Urban environments like the Purple Line extention is compeletely fine with no parking, but along the Blue Line, between the downtowns, there must be more.

  20. Restrooms can be added, but it has to be built in the area past the gates to prevent unwanted people from using them. We don’t want homeless people, gangbangers and drug dealers using the toilets so it has to be placed right after the gates so that those who want to use the restrooms has to pay at least $1.50 to get past the gates to go to the restroom.

    When Metro decides to add amenities and concessions like restrooms and others to their stations, they need start thinking in terms of “before the gates” and “after the gates” now that we have gates installed, similar to how airports are now thought as “before TSA checkpoint” and “after TSA checkpoint.”

  21. Harbor Gateway Transit Center has public restrooms. Ditto El Monte. The report should include evaluation of pluses and minuses those facilities have encountered.

  22. Can’t you understand ppl!! We can’t have restrooms cause the homless will just go in there and sleep in them, ppl will do their drugs in there, have sex, commit sex crimes, they will be vandalize and trashed.

  23. Even though El Monte has restrooms, only having 2 units for the station that is the largest west of Chicago is outrageously not enough. They used to have a lot more, until the new El Monte station came around. How did they ever think that only having 2 stalls available was enough?

  24. Restrooms in shopping malls and airports, both of which are full of people all day, are able to keep their restrooms in proper maintenance and keep them clean. You don’t see gangbangers, drug dealers and homeless people using restrooms to do drugs and commit sex crimes at restrooms at LAX, Kohl’s, Beverly Center, etc. etc.

    So what’s the difference?

    Better security. Shopping malls and airports are full security personnel to keep the place safe. Shopping malls and airports actually make money so that they can hire janitors and security. Our rail stations have no security. All we have are security cameras which does nothing to deter criminals from entering and mingling in the system. Metro has no business skills so there isn’t profit to be made to hire janitors and security personnel either.

    More witnesses. Shopping malls and airports have stores inside them where the employees for those stores themselves act as additional set of eyes. Criminals don’t want to do their criminal acts when there are so many witnesses around. What does our Metro Rail stations have? Nothing. It’s desolate, isolated, cold hard concrete with a bunch of stupid artwork that no one cares about. They could’ve used our tax money to put in a 7-Eleven or a Taco Bell or something which actually creates jobs, brings in more sales taxes, and create a safer atmosphere for our rail stations but noooo, they had to spend millions of dollars in installing art instead.

    When you visit other countries around the world, they perfectly understand this concept to run mass transit. They build rail stations with a profit making mindset so that stations actually make their own money and they use that extra money to hire security and janitors. This concept is completely alien to most American transit operators. All they care is taxing the people more and keep making a bunch of excuses over and over again instead of figuring out how to make money on their own.

  25. Staff restrooms are in restricted areas and are unisex. They are provided for quick use by emplyees who don’t have the time to wait in line.

  26. Fareboxes don’t slow the buses down. It’s the idiots that you also see in the super market who only start to look for their money at the last minute instead of having it ready.

  27. Brian: What will prevent persons from just bypassing the turnstiles by walking on the busiest into the platform? While I fully expect the two chauffeured elites who proposed this agenda item not to have a clue about these things, I would think this would be obvious to any person who actually uses the system on a regular basis.

  28. Teresa,

    I agree. I see thefts, fare evaders and illegal vendors within our system too. What’s needed is better security at all stations so that stations don’t become magnets for criminals and they are kept from entering the system altogether.

    Make train stations and our rail lines safer first so that the unwanted seek other places to do their crimes. Station a police officer at all the gates at all stations so that criminals can’t gain entry into the station or the rail system. Metro needs to stop taking the cheap way out thinking that surveillance cameras and loudspeakers are enough.

    Get these things done first and then we can talk about adding restrooms.

  29. Why dont they have the ‘auto -loos ” installed , the doors open automatically after 15 minutes and the toilet cleans itself after every use –

  30. fare evasion – why doesnt Metro scrap cash fares completely and do like New York transit – where you have to have a prepaid card to board the bus /train – also make the fare an even $ amount as people do not want to pay $1.50 they want to pay $1 so make the fare $2- maybe the train fare should be 2x the bus fare like in London – Metro needs to look and learn from other bus companies

  31. jennifer,

    Your idea has been brought up over and over again by those who have travelled outside of Los Angeles to see how transit works elsewhere. Make TAP users pay less, make cash users pay more so as to entice people to move toward TAP. This is how every city in the world does: Boston MBTA has cheaper fares for CharlieCard users over cash payers, Hong Kong MTR has cheaper fares for Octopus card users, Taipei MRT same thing with their EasyCard.

    Unfortunately all of these common sense ideas never get implemented by Metro because they simply do not care. They want to keep trying to do things their own way, re-inventing the wheel you could say, instead of learning and studying from cities who are far more experienced in running transit than Metro.