Penn Station entertains 650,000 visitors each day. And if at any given time even a small fraction of them want to use the bathroom, there’s a good chance they could be waiting awhile.
That’s because the nation’s busiest transportation hub, and one of New York’s largest indoor public spaces, has just six public bathrooms — three for men, and three for women.
New Jersey Transit, the MTA (and Long Island Rail Road, which it owns), and Amtrak all operate trains out of Penn Station, with each responsible for its own toilet facilities. Amtrak has twenty-one stalls for women as well as fifteen urinals and five stalls for men; New Jersey Transit has seven stalls for women along with three urinals and three toilets for the dudes; and the Long Island Rail Road waiting area is the winner, with twenty-five lady-stalls and a male bathroom that includes twelve urinals and six stalls.
That means the entire station has just seventy-four stalls in which to do one’s business. And with lines often spilling out of the bathrooms and into the waiting and food court areas, some of Penn Station’s visitors say it’s not enough.
“They need to have more bathrooms,” says Carlos Herrera, 29, on his way out of Amtrak’s facilities.
“I actually went in and turned around because of the line,” says Sara, 30, who is visiting New York from Washington, D.C., and declined to give her last name for this illustrious report. “I figured I could wait until I got out of the cab.”
In comparison, Grand Central Terminal also includes six bathrooms, but it has a total of only fifty-seven stalls and eighteen urinals. While Grand Central does receive fewer travelers — 140,000 passengers take Grand Central’s Metro-North trains every day — it also receives more visitors than its crosstown counterpart: at least 750,000 daily.
The majestic cultural icon does, however, clearly beat Penn on one bathroom metric. It has one gender-neutral family restroom with a changing station for people who need more privacy. Penn Station, on the other hand, has no gender-neutral or family restrooms.
The number of bathrooms in Penn may seem paltry compared to the foot traffic passing through every day, but it’s actually been worse. In the Long Island Rail Road section of Penn Station — which has the most bathrooms in Penn — the stalls are actually an improvement from days past, says an MTA representative. In 2009, the MTA renovated the toilets, doubling the size of the ladies’ room and adding eight more stalls. The $5.5 million renovation included “touch-free sensor-operated toilets, faucets, soap dispensers, and hand dryers,” as well as an “improved ventilation system,” according to a press release.
And, according to NJ Transit, which sees 87,000 travelers leave via Penn Station each day (incoming passengers are not recorded), a renovation of the bathrooms in its waiting room earlier this year brings them up to date.
“We believe we’re meeting current customer demand,” says William Smith, senior public information officer at NJ Transit. “It was a complete renovation.”
For the more savvy and well-dressed among us, private bathrooms inside T.G.I. Friday’s and Tracks Bar and Grill also offer discreet places to drop trou. But to take advantage of their facilities, you not only have to know where they’re located (they’re not that easy to find) — you must also evade any Johnny-on-the-spot restaurant employees who don’t take kindly to non-customers taking up precious stall space.
And if you want a free drink of water from a public fountain? You’re even more shit out of luck.
But all of this talk about train station restrooms is just to synthesize what the folks at Broad City have told us already — “Penn Station is disgusting.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 31, 2014