Elevators are for elevating, not defecating

Standing next to strangers in an elevator is aways an interesting sociological experience.

You might ask yourself: Will someone say something? What would happen if I yelled “FIRE,” or farted really loudly? Does this person standing next to me have a criminal record?

But what if the stranger next to you was literally a human turd? And what if the stench of the urine surrounding that turd also permeated the sealed box you were standing in, and your nostrils, and your memory, forever?

What would you say, then? And who would you tell about it?

Well, Juma Muhammed can tell you all about it. He’s in a wheelchair and used to ride in downtown San Francisco’s BART station elevators with human turds all the time.

Muhammed told SF Weekly his wife had to wipe down his wheels every night when he came home so he didn’t track human feces all over the floors where his infant son plays.

He once got a severe facial infection from touching the buttons inside the elevators, even though he wore latex gloves. Instead of running any further risk to the health of himself and his family, Muhammed’s wife now drives him to work.

Even before 9-11, when BART closed bathrooms in 12 stations (4 in SF) indefinitely as a security measure, some people insist on repurposing public elevators as public restrooms.

BART spokesman Jim Allison says at least four workers at any given time are assigned to cleaning downtown San Francisco stations and elevators on an as-needed basis. The BART service workers’ handbook even says:

“John Q. Public should be able to ride our elevators without worrying about stepping on trash, foul odors, or rolling over unknown substances.”

But BART doesn’t keep track how often their elevators are full of feces, or unavailable during cleanup. It does offer free tokens for public bathrooms above ground on Market Street — a condition of a 1998 class-action lawsuit settlement – but the bathrooms within walking distance are usually broken or filthy themselves.

The Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco has pushed for more security cameras in BART station elevators. They hope the added surveillance will help BART police catch violators in the act, so they can be slapped with a $250 fine and up to two days of community service.

The center’s executive director Jessie Lorenz told SF Weekly:

“This is a big public-safety issue … They say if there’s a problem to call the station agent, but they’re left dirty. It’s obviously not a priority.”

Obviously not.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in an underground BART station in San Francisco that didn’t smell like urine. At this point it’s just part of the charm. Albeit charm we could all most definitely do without.