Many CT Transit bus drivers say they still do not have adequate access to restrooms while on the job, despite bus service management telling NBC Connecticut Investigates that progress is being made on the issue.
Some bus operators believe that progress, on what they call a 'matter of human dignity,' has been too slow. In the meantime, drivers say, their health is at risk.
Since NBC Connecticut Investigates first televised on-board surveillance video of a CT Transit bus driver caught urinating in a bush while on duty, there has been an effort to ensure all drivers have appropriate places to relieve themselves, according to the drivers’ union and the bus company.
"You can't have a coffee," said Artan Martinaj, president and business agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 425. "You can't have a bottled water," he added.
The ATU, which represents hundreds of Connecticut bus drivers, recently sent a letter to the state Department of Transportation, which owns CT Transit. The ATU said it conducted a survey of more than 400 local bus operators.
Of those respondents, 68 percent reported avoiding eating or drinking because of a lack of restrooms, and 37 percent said they have had urinary tract or bladder infections. More than a quarter of respondents said that they soiled themselves on the job.
"We appreciate the survey the ATU completed and hope to utilize it to understand specific areas of concerns that we can work together to resolve," said CT Transit General Manager Cole Pouliot. "We need to get down to specific challenges so we can overcome them."
CT Transit and the drivers' union recently established 'bathroom committees' in the Hartford, New Haven and Stamford regions with the goal of identifying safe, clean and accessible restrooms, often in businesses or in public buildings.
"This isn't a one and done thing problem," said Pouliot. "These committees are going be standing so that as things change, we can change with it."
In recent months, drivers have organized rallies for better bathroom access but they say that better access has yet to arrive.
"We really depend on the operators," said Pouliot. "There's so many bathrooms and so many routes. There's no way that the company can spend enough time trying to figure out all of them."
Judd Everhart, director of communications for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, sent NBC Connecticut Investigates the following statement:
“We have met with the executive leadership at First Transit, the organization that manages CT Transit bus service under contract to the DOT. First Transit has a practice of providing its operators with a restroom break whenever requested. This is done by dispatching a supervisor to meet a bus en route to allow the operator to access a restroom. To our knowledge, no such operator request has ever been denied. Additionally, we have asked First Transit to identify additional locations system-wide to improve access to and availability of restrooms. This is an ongoing effort which will require new partnerships with restaurants and retail businesses.”