BRIDGEPORT, CT —The bus drivers who make up the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) across the state are in a dispute with their employers. But it isn’t over wages or health benefits.
This one is about the right — and time — to go to the restroom.
A recent survey released by the ATU found that more than half of all their bus drivers which serve Connecticut riders have no access to restrooms while they’re on the job.
The survey was conducted following media reports that some bus drivers wore adult diapers on the job due to the lack of access to restrooms at work. The transit workers surveyed were from the Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, New London, Milford areas, among others.
The bus drivers also have held two rallies about the issue to try and raise awareness.
Mustafa Salahuddin, president of the Bridgeport Transit Union, said in an interview Monday, “there simply isn’t enough time in many cases for bus drivers to go to the bathroom and meet their schedules.”
“Congestion, increased ridership, and tighter schedules have all made the problem worse,” Salahuddin said.
“If I am driving and I need to go to the bathroom then I am driving under duress,” Salahuddin said. “And that’s fatigue. And duress and fatigue equal an unsafe situation that can lead to something possible catastrophic.”
Mieum Media put together a video and interviewed Salahuddin, who was a former bus driver, and several current bus drivers, about the issue.
One of the drivers in the video was Jasmine Hernandez. She said depending on the time of the day “in can really be bad.”
Another driver, McKinley Sanford, said the bus drivers bosses don’t understand the issue.
“They do no incorporate the time to pick up a wheelchair passenger into our schedule,” Sanford said. “They sit up in their office with a ruler and say “from point A to point B takes 20 minutes — they don’t figure a turn here, a turn here, or a stoplight here.”
“Sometimes I get down to the terminal and it’s just about time to take off but I have to go relieve myself,” Sanford said. “I have to stop the bus and get permission to go to the bathroom — and the passengers don’t understand this.”
In the recent ATU survey on the issue 60 percent of bus drivers reported having no clean, accessible, well-equipped or secure restrooms at the end or along their routes.
Four out of five said they simply didn’t have enough time built into their route to go to the restroom, according to the survey; two-thirds said they had changed their eating and drinking habits to, hopefully, be able to refrain from needing to use the restroom while they were driving their routes.
The survey further reported that more than a quarter had soiled themselves or pulled their bus over on the side of the road to relieve themselves.
The biggest reason bus drivers won’t stop and go, when they need do, is they fear that they will be disciplined if they wind up being late with their run because they went to the restroom.
“A lot of people get points (discipline) if they are late, so I won’t go to the bathroom,” said bus driver Sendra Childs-Corning in the video.
Salahuddin said from his perspective the restroom break problem isn’t a contract issue for the unions.
“It’s a human issue,” he said.
Bus driver management isn’t insensitive to the problem — at least that’s what Doug Holcomb, chief executive officer of the Greater Bridgeport Transit District, said in an interview Monday.
The restroom break problem is “a national issue” for the bus driving industry, Holcomb said.
“We’ve taken steps to address the issue over the years,” Holcomb insisted. “Over the last eight years we have modified schedules and worked with the bus drivers when issues come up to fix problems,” Holcomb maintained.
Holcomb did take issue with Salahuddin’s claim that bus ridership was increasing, making going to the bathroom a tougher chore for drivers.
“Actually our highest ridership was during a period in the summer of 2014 when gas prices were very high,” Holcomb said. “While ridership is up from our low periods the fact that gas prices currently are more affordable means less riders from peak periods.”
Nevertheless, Holcomb said that management will continue to meet with the drivers in an effort to address the problem.
“Our door are always open,” Holcomb said. “Schedules can and will change if they need to.”
CTtransit General Manager Cole Pouliot echoed Holcomb’s comments, stating CTtransit has set up “bathroom committees” to discuss the bus drivers concerns with an eye toward trying to resolve the issue.
“We are committed to listening and trying to work together with the bus drivers on this issue,” Pouliot said.
CTtransit is a division of the state Department of Transportation that provides bus service via contract with providers in seven different areas of the state, mostly concentrated in the Hartford and New Haven areas.
The Greater Bridgeport District operates independently from CTtransit.