Every MTR station seems to be full of shops and other commercial services, but there is one thing that is often lacking – public toilets!
The reason for this goes back to the original design of the system in the 1970s.
Most MTR stations were built in the 1970s and 1980s. In view of the short travelling time and availability of public toilets in most commercial buildings or shopping arcades in the surrounding urban areas, public toilets were not a built-in feature for those MTR stations.
But the expectations of the travelling public have risen in the years since.
With continual expansion of the MTR system and taking into account feedback received from the public, the Corporation has reviewed from time to time the feasibility of providing toilet facilities at new stations for passengers.
So toilets started to be built at new stations.
In this regard, the Corporation has identified appropriate locations, after consulting the relevant Government departments, for building public toilets at street level near some of the new stations. These include toilet facilities built by the Corporation at Public Transport Interchanges at Hang Hau, Tiu Keng Leng and Tseung Kwan O stations of the Tseung Kwan O Line.
As regards the Airport Express Line, in view of the long journey for international travellers with luggage, public toilets were designed as a built-in feature at Hong Kong, Kowloon and Tsing Yi stations.
Similarly, for Disneyland Resort Line, in view of the fact that the Theme Park’s visitors would mostly be families with children, public toilets were designed as a built-in feature at both Sunny Bay and Disneyland Resort stations.
In 2007 the Legislative Council requested the MTR Corporation look at the retrofitting of public toilets at railway stations. A number of technical issues were raised:
- The current station sewage capacities were designed for low usage. Substantial modifications would be needed to meet a comparatively larger volume of foul sewage if public toilets were to be provided. For underground stations, such modifications would be even more difficult as there are only three types of possible connections between the underground station box and the ground level, namely station entrances, vent shafts and service manhole for drainage.
- Installing sewage pipes through station entrances is not desirable due to possible unpleasant smell and appearance. There is also limited ceiling space for installing such pipes all the way leading to the vent shafts. As for service manhole and sewage pipes, modifications to increase their capacity may cause serious impact on road traffic given that these facilities are usually located beneath the surface of busy roads.
- Toilet drains should not be located in the vicinity of the cables, particularly high voltage power supply equipment or overhead line equipment, in order to minimise the risk of their possible impact on railway operation and to avoid corrosion or electrical insulation breakdown that may lead to disruption of railway service.
- In most underground stations, the concourse level is located above the platform level where overhead line wires are located on top of the running tracks with a lot of electrical installations at both platform ends. Hence, it is difficult to identify suitable locations for retrofitting public toilets at the concourse level of underground stations.
- To maintain a hygienic and pleasant travelling environment, an efficient ventilation system is necessary for all railway stations. If public toilets were to be provided in the stations, a separate ventilation system from the station main ventilation system would be required.
- For underground stations, there is little room left for building a separate ventilation system as most of the station areas are already fully occupied. The long path of the ventilation system would need to go through the busy areas filled with cables, piping and ducting before reaching the vent shaft.
- The spatial requirement for station passenger facilities such as staircases, escalators, entry/exit gates, platform supervision booths, and customer service centres, and the requirement of adequate room for passenger flow and emergency evacuation impose substantial constraints in finding suitable locations for retrofitting toilets.
This review resulted in three decisions:
- Retrofitting toilets in underground stations is not feasible.
- For existing aboveground/at-grade stations, the Corporation will continue to examine the feasibility of retrofitting toilets at or in the vicinity of such stations.
- For future new lines and extensions, the Corporation will include the provision of public toilets within stations, subject to geographical constraints.
As well as the MTR publishing a list of the nearest public toilets to each railway station.
As of 2012 ten out of 20 interchange stations in the MTR network have public toilets, with toilets retrofitted to all 20 interchange stations by 2020.
What about the staff toilets?
In 2017 online media outlet Hong Kong 01 reported on the ‘staff only’ toilets at MTR stations.
“Hong Kong 01” reporters recently measured at 7 stations without public toilets, including Lok Fu Station, Yau Tong Station, North Point Station, Tin Hau Station, Wan Chai Station, Jordan Station and Hong Kong Station.
When expressing to the staff that they need to use the toilet, The station staff took the reporter to the hidden corner of the station. After he opened a silver iron door, there was a “mysterious toilet” hidden in the interior. Generally, there were two or three toilet compartments! The staff explained that it is a toilet for staff of the MTR. If passengers need it, they can check with the staff.
Du Guangren, Chairman of the Employees Association of the Mass Transit Railway Corporation, explained that passengers can inquire the staff if they need it. According to their understanding, no matter which station is required to be led by the staff to use it; however, there are different security standards.
The MTR responded to “Hong Kong 01” inquiries and stated that there are a number of signs posted on the platform of the station and the control station outside the lobby, informing passengers that if necessary, they can ask the station staff to use the staff toilet inside the station.
The above quotes are all from a July 2007 report by the Legislative Council Panel on Transport titled ‘Provision of Public Toilets in MTR Railway Stations‘.
The lack of public toilets on the MTR system parallels the lack of disabled access to stations – thankfully that omission has almost been corrected, after decades of work retrofitting lifts to every MTR stations.