Not since September 11, 2001 have the underground bathrooms at Bay Area BART stations been open to the public.
They were closed due to security threats back then and stayed that way for two decades but now, BART has announced, the "time is right" to reopen them.
#DEVELOPING George W. Bush was president last time @SFBART underground bathrooms were open to the public, but starting early next year, the transit agency plans to reopen them in stages. The first will be 19th St. Oakland and Powell St. San Francisco stations. #abc7now pic.twitter.com/jc8puWoZWq— Laura Anthony (@LauraAnthony7) October 28, 2021
"The riders want us to reopen these restrooms," said BART spokesperson Alicia Trost. "We hear it all the time. Especially if you're a family traveling with young children. They don't understand the restrooms are closed because of security reasons."
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The plan is to reopen the underground restrooms in stages over five years.
The first two are set to open in February of next year, and are already in the process of being remodeled at Oakland's 19th Street station and at Powell Street in San Francisco.
BART board discusses reopening some bathrooms closed since 2001
"I cannot hide my excitement about this," said BART Director Janice Li. Like it has taken years and years and years to get to this point."
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As shown in BART photos, the sinks will be outside the main bathroom itself and to enhance security and cleanliness for at least the first three months, there will be a full-time attendant as part of a pilot program.
"This won't the Madonna Inn where people will be visiting BART to see our restrooms," said BART Director Robert Rayburn, "but we're doing the right thing."
With ridership levels still way below pre-pandemic levels, the hope is that reopening bathrooms that have been closed for two decades might lure at least some people back to the system.
"We want to make sure that we are providing all the types of amenities that you need to use BART," explained Trost, "and needing to use the restroom is something that everyone faces."
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Weekday ridership on BART is still just 27% of what it was pre-pandemic.
"I think it's great we've already shared with the public that this is something that we're going to do," said BART Director Rebecca Saltzman, "but now it's up to the staff and the board to recommit to this in every budget cycle upcoming."