Ensuring Restroom Access Helps Recruit And Retain Drivers

By Lora Byala AICP and Adam Recchia | 4/28/2024

President & CEO
Foursquare ITP

Project Manager & Data Science Team Manager
Foursquare ITP

Lora Byala and Adam Recchia

Driver wellness—and its importance in attracting and retaining enough bus drivers to provide high quality, reliable service—is a hot topic in the public transit industry, and research within the last few years has emphasized the importance of agencies embracing driver wellness to aid in recruitment and retention.

The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) recently published TCRP Research Report 245: Mental Health, Wellness, and Resilience for Transit System Workers, which found that almost all drivers cited having limited restroom access. These drivers stated that this lack of access affected their mental health as well as their physical health.

Last year, APTA published a report about the transit workforce shortage, which identified wellness issues as a barrier to recruitment and retention of drivers.

Other research demonstrates that more than 30 percent of bus drivers report developing a new or worsened heath condition due to lack of restroom access.1 This has contributed to why these drivers switch to delivery and trucking industries, which often offer workers more flexibility.2 A widespread lack of driver-friendly restrooms can have a major ripple effect on transit service provision. This issue is particularly acute for agencies planning expanded services or conducting bus network redesigns, as those often include new layover locations for which restrooms need to be built or identified.

A widespread lack of driver-friendly restrooms can have a major ripple effect on the provision of public transit services.

Easy Access to Facilities Is Crucial to Driver Wellness

A recently completed study by Foursquare ITP, Arcadis IBI Group, and Toole Design for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) evaluated restroom availability at proposed layover locations for its planned bus network redesign. The goal of this study was to reduce the amount of time between potential restroom breaks. With a proposed service increase of 25 percent3, it is critical that the MBTA recruit, train, and retain as many drivers as possible to run the expanded network.

Using Data-Driven Methods to Identify Restroom Gaps

The project team performed a detailed restroom access analysis at all current and proposed layover locations and for all bus trips in the MBTA’s proposed bus network redesign to determine where there might be long gaps between opportunities for drivers to use toilets.

The team created a geodatabase of businesses, public restrooms, and agency-owned facilities within a five-minute walk of every proposed layover location in the redesigned network. The team identified whether each restroom was “easily accessible,” defined as an agency-owned or public location, or a business where drivers could use the restroom without having to make a purchase, and included the days and hours that the restroom was open.

The team then used a General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) of the future network to identify how many and on which trips drivers would have to wait more than a certain amount of time—i.e., 60, 75, or 90 minutes—to use a restroom. This involved comparing—using a completely automated process—the restroom availability (taking into account both that it existed and was open) to the time each trip would arrive at the layover location, and therefore the length of time between restroom opportunities. For example, if a route had a one-way running time of 45 minutes and there is a restroom available only at one of the two endpoint layover locations, the driver would have to wait twice the runtime, or 90 minutes, plus the layover time at the location without a restroom, for an opportunity to use one.

The analysis further evaluated restroom access by type of restroom—i.e., agency-owned, public, or a business—to determine gaps, acknowledging that the agency has more control over hours and access to agency-owned restrooms, making them a more reliable option. The results of this analysis—noting which trips would result in long gaps and which locations were causing the most problems—was provided to the MBTA for their use in defining solutions.

How Other Agencies Can Apply These Methods

Using a data-driven and informed method to address restroom access will have a noticeable effect on driver wellness.

The analysis conducted for MBTA can be applied to identify gaps and develop interventions to improve restroom access for any public transit agency, using two key inputs: a geodatabase of restroom facilities and a GTFS feed. Agencies can then use the method described above to determine which trips exceed agency policies and guidelines for minutes between restroom breaks due to a lack of an open restroom; for example, an agency can set a policy of say, 75 minutes between restroom breaks on 95 percent of trips. Once the policy is set and gaps are identified, agencies can divert routes to other locations that do have restroom access, construct new restrooms, or develop use agreements for drivers to use facilities at local businesses.

Using this data-driven and informed method to addressing restroom access will have a noticeable effect on driver wellness and mitigate one factor that leads to shortages, which in turn will lead to a better quality of life for the remaining drivers and a more reliable bus service for customers. For MBTA, conducting this analysis was a key piece in preparing to make their network redesign become reality.

  1. Bus Operator Workforce Management: Prac­titioner’s Guide. The National Academies Press. Retrieved 4/12/2024 from https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/26842/bus-operator-workforce-management-practitioners-guide. ↩︎
  2. Bus operators are in Crisis. Here’s How Agencies Can Turn Things Around. TransitCenter. Retrieved 4/12/2024 from https://transitcenter.org/bus-operators-in-crisis-charts-the-deterioration-of-one-of-transits-most-essential-jobs-and-shows-how-agencies-can-turn-things-around/. ↩︎
  3. Bus Network Redesign: Project Details. MBTA. Retrieved on 4/12/24 from: https://www.mbta.com/projects/bus-network-redesign/bus-network-redesign-project-details. ↩︎