Should the MTA reopen subway bathrooms? Riders say yes, but the MTA isn’t so enthusiastic

Subway bathrooms in Union Square
Subway rider Jay Ramos looks upon a locked subway bathroom.
Photo by Dean Moses

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine urged the MTA Tuesday to reopen its public bathrooms.

The BP joined a rally on the steps of City Hall on June 28 in which he advocated for more public bathrooms to open up around the city. During the conference, Levine told amNewYork Metro that he believes the MTA should restore public bathrooms for commuters. With bathrooms in over 76 subway stations closed, riders are forced to exit the mass transit system to find a “place to go.”

“Personally, I strongly believe the MTA needs to reopen the bathrooms in its system. There are over 70. They were closed under the pretense of the pandemic. I’m not sure whether that was ever justified. But at this point, there’s no justification. We need those bathrooms opened throughout the system,” Levine told amNewYork Metro.

This comes as Mayor Eric Adams and others campaign for New Yorkers to ditch remote and hybrid work and return full time to offices in hope of kickstarting the city financially. Yet with droves of people expected to return to the subway system, they are still in 2022 left without a place to heed the call of nature during their ride.

Women’s is bathroom is padlocked inside the Union Square subway station. Photo by Dean Moses

“That certainly is part of the solution here,” Levine added. 

But the MTA rejects that notion. According to an MTA spokesperson, the transit system is concentrating on keeping platforms clean while also citing safety concerns as reasons to keep the restrooms padlocked for now.

“The MTA prioritizes cleaning of station platforms and train cars used by millions of New Yorkers and will not compromise the safety of its riders and staff by opening public bathrooms at a time when resources are not available to also provide bathrooms with necessary cleaning and security,” MTA Spokesperson Dave Steckel said.

Since January, MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber has shut the lid on this debate, emphasizing that reopening subway restrooms are not a priority at this time. All cleaning crews have been diverted since the pandemic to daily disinfecting of subway cars.

The Union Square subway station is one of many sites where bathrooms remained shuttered, and Rayquan Drew disagrees with this decision. He believes that the MTA should have the resources to instill safety and cleanliness.  

“They have to have somebody monitoring it. Unfortunately, you have a lot of people due to the pandemic that’s living on the streets, living in the train [who are going to use the bathroom.] So, if you have somebody monitoring it, you could leave it open. I just don’t want that place dirty,” Drew said.

Photo by Dean Moses

Jonathan, a frequent subway rider traversing through Union Square recalls how the restrooms in the subway system were never clean to begin with, and with COVID-19 still lingering that cleanliness is paramount.

“The bathrooms are never washed, never cleaned, and there are always homeless people sleeping in there,” Jonathan said. “If they open it up, they should clean it like three times a day.”

Jay Ramos thinks now is the right time to reinstate subway restrooms, especially since above ground there are limited options due to shuttered public restrooms and storefronts require patronage before utilizing their facilities.

“I feel it’s time to open it right back up because anywhere is dangerous and at the end of the day we need somewhere to use the bathroom. You never know when someone has to go. It’s better to have a bathroom,” Ramos said.

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