The absence of bathrooms and benches at a temporary transit hub downtown was meant to keep the homeless away but has left commuters uncomfortable and local businesses inundated with lines to use their lavatories.
The $18 million temporary Transbay Terminal at Howard and Main streets will be in operation for at least seven years while the new terminal is built. It serves dozens of transportation lines including Muni, AC Transit, SamTrans and Golden Gate.
While it opened in August to mostly positive reviews from commuters, many have complained that the designers have deliberately made the bus stops uncomfortable for the people who use them the most. There are no bathrooms for commuters to use and only a handful of benches far from where the buses stop.
Businesses around the terminal say more people are entering their stores, but most of them aren’t buying anything. At the nearby Howard Street Coffee Roasters Café, manager Jane Hengi said she’s seen an influx of people — from the homeless to businessmen — coming in to get a key to the bathroom.
“A lot of people are lying to use the bathroom too,” Hengi said. “They say they will buy something, then they come back and leave. They probably go to Starbucks.”
At the San Francisco Soup Co. across the street, the bathroom has seen more traffic than the terminal itself, said employee Edwin Aleman.
“Business has gone up a bit since it came in, but we’ve had a lot of people using the restroom,” Aleman said. “I guess some good things and some bad things come with the Transbay Terminal.”
Even places without bathrooms are being inundated by commuters. At Subway, manager Hemali Panchal has had to turn away a number of people looking for a public restroom. She has also seen an increase in homeless people around the area.
“We’ve seen more bums around,” Panchal said. “It’s a problem but not a ridiculous problem.”
A spokesman for the Transbay Terminal project, Adam Alberti, said the bathrooms were kept out of the design for security purposes much like BART closed bathrooms in San Francisco stations after 9/11.
“Unfortunately, security comes at the cost of convenience,” Alberti said. “As far as local businesses go, we’re aware that the terminal has increased their customer base considerably, but we’re unaware of any demand on their bathroom facilities.”
Oakland attorney John Burris, who was contacted by a friend, brought up the prospect of a lawsuit this week to remedy the problem. He said that the lack of a latrine could pose a serious problem to the disabled and elderly.
“I would hope that the Transbay people would realize they’ve made a mistake and they’d fix it themselves,” Burris said. “It just seems to me it’s common sense.”
But maybe not everyone will bother local businesses when the need arises. Gamaliel Franco has been traveling out of the Transbay Terminal for
18 years, and wasn’t pleased to learn of the absence of toilets.
“When you got to go, you got to go,” he said.
Nowhere to go
$18 million: Cost of temporary terminal
Aug. 7: Date temporary terminal opened
4: Number of benches
0: Public bathrooms
7: Years terminal is expected to operate
$1.9 billion: Cost of permanent terminal
Source: Transbay Joint Powers Authority