San Francisco’s Transit Escalators Plagued By Plethora Of Human Poo

If I learned anything from reading books as a child, it’s that everybody poops. Unfortunately for those commuters utilizing the BART in San Francisco, homeless people are treating the transit system’s escalators as late-night lavatories and severely gumming up the works. That’s creating quite a smelly problem for BART work crews.

The San Francisco Chronicle says when workers took apart a broken BART escalator last month, there was so much human waste inside it, they had to call hazardous-materials team. At night when the stations close down, BART station stairwells are known to be a hot spot for homeless people looking for a bit of quiet time.

Not unsurprisingly, it isn’t the best ingredient to add to the mechanisms involved in the escalators, causing long shutdowns and providing for a decidedly disgusting smell for commuters. It’s not an easy problem to fix, say BART authorities, as there aren’t a lot of open bathrooms that late at night providing other options for the homeless downtown.

BART policers will check stairwells in the morning and ask people to move along who may have slept there, and alert cleaning crews if there’s a mess. Sometimes it’s too late by then for the inner workings of the escalators.

The hardest part to address? In order for a citation to be issued, someone’s got to be there to see it and report it.

“Nobody wants to be walking in urine and feces, I know that, (but) if we don’t see it or the person doesn’t admit to it, they can just say it was someone else,” a BART spokesman said. “Certain crimes you don’t see, you can’t enforce.”

San Franciscans — if you smell something, say something.

Human waste shuts down BART escalators [San Francisco Chronicle]


Edit Your Comment

  1. HalOfBorg says:

    And people wonder why the homeless are often treated badly.

    • AcctbyDay says:

      There are many reasons they are treated badly. The fact that the public transit system does not have bathrooms open to the public is the transit systems problem and not the homeless. If you operate a public facility, you need public facilities har har.

      Seriously though, do you really think that a homeless person would prefer an escalator over a toilet? If there was a toilet I’m betting it would get used.

      • Marlin says:

        This happens at night when they are closed. The DC metro stations have public toliets but when they are closed you can’t get in as well.
        Let alone you think a public restroom in a busy city is going to be treated any better than this story brings up?

        • Dirt Farmer says:

          In Amsterdam, there are open-air urinals, at least for men. It’s a tall stone wall that you piss against, which then runs down the wall and into a sewer drain. Your torso down to your knees are hidden behind a circular metal guard, so no one can see your tenders. I’ll admit it feels weird standing there, pissing, in full view of an entire city, but the Dutch really don’t care.

      • Miss Malevolent says:

        If they left those things open at night, there would be drugs, prostitution and let’s face it, still the nasty behavior they’re already engaged in. Hence the reason why those facilities are closed at night.

        • Costner says:

          Plus, we know how well people treat public restrooms by day… I don’t even want to think what they would look like after being available all night.

          I would also assume if someone was homeless, they would just sleep in the restroom stall because it would give them a sense of privacy – and as such nobody else would be able to use those stalls anyway. I’d also be concerned about the confines of a restroom being an invite for raptists, thieves, and other elements we would rather not think about.

          The only potential solution I can think of would be to have some form of a portapotty which is not big enough to sleep in and which doesn’t offer a ton of privacy. Or maybe just increase security and patrols to prevent the bathrooms from being a problem.

      • JollySith says:

        I know that anecdotes aren’t Data but I have seen a homeless guy lean against a building, squat down and relieve himself on the pavement in broad daylight, just across the street from the Downtown Dallas Public library where he could have gone in and used the big clean open to everyone bathrooms there. So while yes if there were open public restrooms there might be less human waste on the escalators but I would bet there would still be some.
        There is also a practical matter of money. if you leave those bathrooms open overnight they are going to get abused and vandalized. Anyone who has ever had to clean a public restroom will tell you that with 100% certainty. That is going to cost extra man hours and materials in an already strapped city budget. No one gets re-elected when they are closing city parks so that the homeless have a place to crap.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          The homeless are usually given C-Ts for using the restrooms, or any facilities, in a Public LIbrary. So no, the library is probably NOT an option.

          • Anne Noise says:

            Wow, I worked in a library for two years and have been a lifelong patron of many of them, and knew many homeless people who very quietly, cleanly and politely stayed in the library from opening to closing, happily using the internet, lending items and bathroom facilities. Unless they are actively causing a problem, they are allowed to use the library as much as anyone else, and in my library’s case, even if they just pop in to use the bathroom and pop back out. It’s a public facility – should we have a bouncer checking IDs to make sure patrons aren’t homeless before letting them in the bathroom?

      • jwissick says:

        When I used to do security in some areas in San Jose, the homeless would take over an abandoned building and shit not 10 feet from where they slept…. too lazy to walk 10 yards to the operating toilet.

        It was revolting.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      Yeah! I mean, it isn’t like a normal retail store customer would smear shit all over the walls and ceiling of a stall, or piss on the floor.

  2. SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

    Aaand this wins the award for most disgusting news I’ve ever read on consumerist.

  3. TuxthePenguin says:

    And those could be solved installing gates that would seal off the areas. Its probably a lot cheaper to do that than repair a single escalator.

  4. blogger X says:

    This is a regular occurence on SEPTA’s elevators. Plus when they don’t turn the fans on in the elevators, good grief just walking by them is enough to throw up! I feel sorry for the elderly/disabled/parents with carriages getting on them having to endure that smell.

    • SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

      Yeah that’s definitely the case, woe be unto those that must catch the orange line under city hall that place smells like port o John

      • blogger X says:

        So true! Man, during the middle of winter its 20 degrees outside and it STILL reaks of wizz on the City Hall stop!

    • Jelly says:

      Yeah, I was going to ask why they thought this was specific to BART, but maybe that’s just something you start to think is normal after too much time on SEPTA.

      • thesupremeaj says:

        The whole Gallery smells awful, all the way from Patco on 8th @ the EL up to the regional rails and concourse to the trolleys

    • Jane_Gage says:

      Same reason, no facilities not even on the regional rail. Also City Hall rat colony mating, screaming, and building ferris wheels completely desensitized to humans.

  5. Marlin says:

    Even if you do catch them they are homeless, you think a sh_tting in public ticket is going to mess their life up?

    Why not close that part of the station down at night as well?

  6. KieranM says:

    If I lived there, I’d be in favor of providing public bathrooms, as well as hiring some folks to keep them clean. Yes,it would cost money but it would be a solution that’s both simple and compassionate.

    And why is compassion necessary here? Because many (actually a majority, I read somewhere) of the homeless are mentally ill. Decades ago, people like this were left in institutions, and that was a system with problems of its own. But turning them loose on the streets, with no plan for their future, was stupid and shortsighted.

    I have a family member with severe mental illness and feel fortunate we found a relatively affordable assisted living facility that specializes in mental illness. It’s privately owned, far from fancy, and the residents are treated decently. Unfortunately, such places are all too rare.

    • frodolives35 says:

      Prisons are 1/3 full of the mentally ill. How is that cheaper then all the institutions they closed in the 70’s

    • Carlos Spicy Weiner says:

      Agree, but that IS the big question: where will the money come from? As a State, we’re broke. San Francisco probably spends more money on the Homeless than most cities its size.

      I also agree with your comments about the mentally ill. when Reagan was Governor, he did a lot of things we are still paying for, like cutting funding for Mental Health programs and PublicSchools

    • Anne Noise says:

      It wouldn’t just “cost money,” it would cost money that the state absolutely does not have. I agree that we need to have more compassion as a society, but there are unfortunate limitations to the amount of help we can give some people, including, in this case, not being able to leave bathrooms open and monitored 24/7.

  7. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    You’d have to install bathrooms of 100% stainless steel and tile, with limited toilet paper and no paper towels because people are pigs and they’ll just trash them. At least with a totally metal and tile fixture, the poor souls cleaning them could just hose it down.

    I live in a rural area, and our township built a nice boat launch area (where my former avatar’s picture was taken!). There are flush toilets and a nice bath hose where you can change from boating/water skiing and use the facilities. At least once per season someone smears feces all over, clogs the toilets with the toilet paper, and jams the sinks open so everything floods into a giant sewer mess. It’s disgusting. I really don’t know what’s wrong with people.

    • SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

      I take back my earlier statement, this is the most disgusting news I’ve ever gotten on the site.

    • aja175 says:

      We have some fancy french public toilets that “clean” themselves between each use. Problem is they get trashed like everything else.

    • frodolives35 says:

      That is most likely a teen and not a homeless person.

      • JollySith says:

        I disagree. Teens might clog the drains. But smearing feces on walls, mirrors, ceilings etc.. (all of which I have seen) speaks to mental illness. That and a lot of anger and resentment. All of which are abundant in homeless society.

    • Razor512 says:

      students did something similar to that when I was in high school

      they would put feces on the stall walls and on the inside door knob, and on the sink, the pee on the toilet paper.

      the windows in the bathroom did not open so who ever went in and did not check the knob before letting the door close would be trapped. (happened at least twice a month)

      (I guess that’s New York schooling for you)

    • 401k says:

      Not limited TP. No TP. Just give em the three seashells.

  8. djdanska says:

    CTA Stops in chicago is just as bad.

    • 180CS says:

      I’m only in Chicago maybe once every month, but the only bad thing I’ve ever seen with CTA is the back of the train. What area have you been to that has problems this bad?

  9. dicobalt says:

    Sounds like all they need to do is get some portapotties.

  10. Flyersfan says:

    I always thought the rule was he who smelt it, dealt it. Isn’t that legally enforceable?

  11. aja175 says:

    “San Franciscans — if you smell something, say something.”

    Really? You’re not from SF, are you. This town is a giant toilet.

  12. kevinroyalty says:

    two words: security cameras

    • 180CS says:

      Nope. You would then have to have a cop rush over there to ticket the guy, or put him in jail. He’s not going to pay the ticket, and a night with a warm bed and food (jail) isn’t that bad of a deal for a lot of homeless people (and it costs the city A LOT in processing fees and maintaining the jail…not to mention tied up resources transporting them). It would cost more to deal with all that than to just have a guard…and that would cost more than simply erecting a lockable gate.

  13. dush says:

    Ingenious. Crap on the stairs and it magically moves away and disappears below the floor.

    • NickRayko says:

      Time to redesign the escalator mechanism to use shit as lubrication for the moving parts!

  14. Jane_Gage says:

    Have an open sewer with a steady trickle of water and call it the SHART.

  15. Starfury says:

    One reason I rarely go to SF…it smells like pee by the downtown BART stations. Plus the homeless everywhere.

  16. Shorebreak says:

    The odor of urine and feces permeates downtown San Francisco due to the large homeless population that the city administration has been unable, or unwilling, to deal with for decades. Adding to the problem are the lack of public bathroom facilities in San Francisco. Even if you manage to find one, they are usually locked by city maintenance workers so they won’t have to clean them. The public facilities down by Fisherman’s Wharf have been locked for at least the last three years. San Francisco needs to learn from London, England on how to run a city. Beautiful scenery is nice but “Baghdad by the Bay” is not the jewel that it claims to be.

  17. NephriteStars says:

    That’s just gross…

  18. evilpete says:

    Yea, the Escalators are always broken. The with homeless is that

  19. evilpete says:

    The problem is the mild weather in the SF Bay Area, it never snows and hardly break 90° thus there is a year around stagnant homeless population.

  20. Carlos Spicy Weiner says:

    Public toilets open at night in a BART station would present many problems, such as vandalism/high maintenance costs, drug use/dealing, sex rendezvous, people sleeping in them. A few years ago, we tried “self cleaning” toilets on Market Street (above the BART and Muni Metro stations) and that was what happened. It’s sad it’s come to this, but that’s the grim reality for a city with an, entrenched, chronic Homeless population

  21. Tribune says:

    Even during operating hours, since 9/11 BART closed its bathrooms in urban stations, ostensibly to protect against terrorists.

    Apparently, those terrorists only target the downtown areas. (Bathrooms remain open in at least some of the suburban stations).

  22. Cream Of Meat says:

    The real problem here is that all the bathrooms INSIDE bart (in SF) are always closed. On more than one occasion I’ve needed to pee so bad I wanted to pee on the escalators (no cameras if you can pee fast enough) because all the damn bathrooms in the PAID section of bart are closed.

    I’ve never done it, the walk around looking for a bathroom usually delays the urgency, but fucking C’MON bart for the $10 I pay I should have a place to piss!

    And bart is supposed to be a nice clean commuter train, not a fucking homeless piss pot. Fucking double the price of fairs to keep the poor people off and use the money to clean everything. As it is right now, if I go by myself its about break even, then I’m stuck with walking and muni, but If I have more than just me its way cheaper and easier to just drive to the city and I’ll have a car to drive around in.

    This system is broken and the only way to fix it is drastic and so sorely needed.

  23. propertyistheft says:

    Hey, guess what all of you people who are so insistent that the “homeless are this” and the “homeless are that.” The homeless are people. Without homes. That’s all.

    Some are regular old Joes who hit hard times and are stuck. Some are working 40+ hours a week. Some, jwissick, are punk-ass kids and adults addicted to drugs who don’t give a F*** about anyone or anything, and delight in destroying a place they’ve gained access to. Many have severe mental illness, RvLeshrac, which is most likely what the problem is with someone who is smearing feces on the wall (not altogether that uncommon).

    There’s a few stereotypes, those that fit them, and then a world full of people you don’t even notice. We live in a nation busily destroying its safety nets, with many people pushed to the edge. I hope I don’t fall off, and I hope you don’t either. But one things for sure, if I become homeless, and I can manage to survive, I’m not going to give a damn who has to walk through a pile of my crap.

  24. hamilton101 says:

    Downtown SF has become a toilet. Not only do people have to smell the stench in Bart with the homeless defecating and urinating, those of us that walk the streets of downtown have to tolerate the smell of urine on the buildings and sidewalks. It is disgusting! I have worked downtown for 35+ years and never have I smelled it as bad as it is today. How does the city expect tourists to tolerate this? How does the city expect the people who work downtown to tolerate this? How do restaurants that have outdoor seating expect customers to eat outside with the smell of urine? If the city will tolerate the homeless living downtown than the city should install outdoor restrooms!
    Who do we write complaints to within the city government??????????????????

  25. Philippe23 says:

    What do you mean they can’t press charges? They have a DNA sample! :-D