Creative solutions to Muni bathroom issue needed 

For those of us who work in an office environment, the availability of restrooms is a given. And for professions in which restroom availability is not set — think construction, for example — temporary ones are trucked in.

The issue becomes trickier when the workplace is on wheels, such as for the men and women who operate Muni vehicles.

Roughly 2,000 Muni operators traverse The City daily on routes of varying lengths, but most passengers know that the longest rides in San Francisco can be more than an hour. That means the operator must resist any call of nature for that entire time. Therefore restrooms should be available to Muni operators in close proximity to each route's terminus.

The shortage of such essential facilities has led the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, to propose installing 36 stand-alone restrooms across The City. They would not be made available to the general public.

At first glance, the proposal is reasonable. But then there are the details, particularly the cost.

The price tag for each street-level lavatory is $170,000. For all the restrooms, that would be $6.12 million — a hefty price to pay when there could be a much less expensive alternative.

In the past, Muni has entered into agreements with local businesses for between $4,000 and $5,000 a year so operators can use their restrooms. Twelve months of such agreements at 36 locations for $5,000 a year would come out to $180,000 — a significant savings.

Finding appropriate businesses could be tricky — they would need to have a restroom available, be open seven days a week and be located in the needed locations. But the work of at least attempting to find such businesses is worth it considering the potential savings.

Union members from the group that represents the operators have decried the idea of using businesses' restrooms, with one member stating during a public meeting this week that not having dedicated facilities turns the operators into second-class citizens.

The exaggerated remarks would be true if The City were considering making no restrooms available, but there is no truth to that since officials acknowledge the need for the lavatories but are rather just raising their brows at the cost and the infrastructure needed.

In addition to the millions in costs the lavatories would require, they also need space on San Francisco's sidewalks — something already in limited supply. The proposal for the restrooms calls for roughly 8-foot-tall structures that would have footprints of either 8-by-11 feet or 7-by-13 feet.

A final verdict on size would need to await a design, but keeping that much space on sidewalks open definitely needs to weigh into the equation of whether these restrooms are needed.

The lack of restrooms for Muni drivers is not a laughing matter. But The City should be prudent in working to find inexpensive solutions for the problem before spending millions on boxes that will sit locked on the sidewalks for the majority of the time. It is understandable that some of these lavatories will need to be built, but creative solutions can lessen the impacts they will have.

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