UPDATE: The city issued a notice on Monday, April 3, that the downtown terminal restrooms have been closed for methamphetamine contamination testing.
“During a routine inspection of the restrooms at the Downtown Terminal on Thursday, March 30, a security officer became ill and was taken by ambulance to the hospital where they were later released,” the release said. “As a precaution the restrooms were closed and a planned deep cleaning was done on Saturday, April 1. The decision was also made to open restrooms only to drivers, staff and passengers going forward.
“On Monday, April 3, MMT received additional information that indicated the security guard may have been exposed to methamphetamine and, as a result, the bathrooms were immediately closed. The restrooms will remain closed until they can be thoroughly tested and if needed, MMT will conduct any necessary mitigation,” the release said.
Last November, MMT boosted security at the terminal and more was added in January, targeting the restrooms. Security guards monitor the terminal for loitering and inappropriate behavior. Janitorial service hours were also increased last month.
Two representatives of the Mountain Metropolitan Transit drivers union made pleas to City Council today, March 28, to take steps to protect the safety of bus drivers.
Their concerns focused on:
• The Downtown bus terminal’s restrooms, which are filthy and used for ingestion of drugs, one person alleged, making drivers seek facilities elsewhere amid their routes, which isn’t always possible.
• Plexiglas protection plates that were installed during the COVID pandemic but have been removed. The barriers provided drivers with safety from passengers who yell at them, spit at them or worse.
Margie Sullivant, president/business agent for Local ATU 19 (the drivers), called the terminal restrooms “disgusting” and noted only one custodian is charged with keeping them clean. The terminal is open seven days a week.
Besides being dirty, the restrooms often are used by homeless people to bathe and could attract drug users who leave dangerous substances, such as methamphetamine and fentanyl behind, she said.
Because there are no designated bathrooms for drivers on their routes, some skip much needed breaks, she said. Infrequent urination and not drinking enough water in order to minimize the need to take bathroom breaks could have played a role in at least two drivers being diagnosed with kidney problems, Sullivant said.
“The more I talk with drivers [about bathroom access],” she said, “the more they come forward with issues.”
She suggested that the bathrooms be fitted with key card locks and that they be inaccessible to the public unless a citizen is given access by an attendant.
Councilor Dave Donelson said he wants the administration, in a work session, to explain why this issue persists. “Sometimes we don’t have control over an issue, the mayor has control,” he said.
Councilor Nancy Henjum agreed and went a step further. “We have a desperate need for facilities in the Downtown area.” Although Council has “power of purse” to fund such issues, Henjum said she didn’t want to wait until the next budget to find a solution.
“It is time for us to really take a look and prioritize this for you,” Henjum said, and also for the citizens, she added.
Said Councilor Bill Murray, “This is a public health issue. There’s no reason we can’t find a simple method of putting in an electronic lock.”
Sharon Clements, who also is a representative of the drivers’ union, said the removal of the Plexiglas barriers endangers drivers.
“We need to be safe while we’re driving,” she said. In the case of a driver being distracted by an assault or worse, being shot or stabbed as some drivers in other cities have been, the bus likely would plow into surrounding traffic, she said. A vehicle the size of a bus that lost control due to a driver being out of commission could lead to serious injuries of multiple drivers and passengers both in front of the bus and behind it, she said.
Whenever the issue has been raised, she said, the drivers have been told, “We’re looking into it,” and nothing happens.
“We know the money is there,” she said. “All they need to do is start doing it. [installing the barriers]”
She said that local drivers have been fortunate not to have been victimized on the job — but nationwide, for every police officer who’s assaulted, two bus drivers are assaulted.
City Council President Tom Strand, who leaves office in mid-April, expressed frustration that nothing had been done after he made a visit to the Downtown restroom in recent weeks. “I saw how bad the bathrooms are,” he said, “I did bring it to the attention of the acting director [of transit] and I was told this would be dealt with.”
He pledged that Council would look into the matters.
Asked about all that, MMT issued this statement to Sixty35:
“Like many urban transit systems nationwide, Mountain Metropolitan Transit (MMT) has been dealing with inappropriate use of its facilities and restrooms. MMT has been working with its contracted drivers, as well as responding to customer complaints regarding the restrooms at the Downtown Terminal. We have increased security presence, especially around the restrooms, and lengthened janitorial hours. Security guards monitor the Terminal for loitering and inappropriate behavior.
“Out of an abundance of caution, MMT is engaging a cleaning service with experience in handling hazardous materials and will close the restrooms for a deep clean on Saturday, April 1st. The city has also offered to let drivers utilize the restrooms at City Hall.
“MMT first installed driver barriers on the fixed-route buses during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and upgraded the barriers in early 2022. Once installed, however, MMT received multiple driver complaints about glare from the panels. Due to the severity of the consequences that could result in leaving the barriers in place, MMT has instructed its maintenance contractor to remove and store them while other options are investigated.
“MMT is committed to providing high quality, safe, and efficient transportation for the Pikes Peak region.”