Urine detection? You’re in detention, MARTA warns

Have you been peeing in MARTA’s elevators?

Hey, don’t snort. Someone has, and MARTA is pi —, er, peeved. Now, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is spreading the word: Urine scofflaws need to clean up their act.

MARTA recently installed a state-of-the-art urine sniffer in one of its Midtown elevators. The detector, called UDD — that’s transit-talk for “urine detection device” — is still going through tests. So far it’s got the goods on one hapless guy who should have ignored nature’s call.

The transit system, which has rail lines extending to each major point of the compass, recently decided it had to do something about its elevators. For decades, it’s been bedeviled by people who’ve relieved themselves in elevators and stairwells. The damage caused by urine was both physical — over time, it can erode surfaces — and mental: A site smelling of urine feels unsafe.

Enter Tom Beebe, MARTA’s director of vertical transportation, aka the man in charge of escalators and elevators. MARTA has more than 100 elevators, including at least 80 along its train lines. Each rail elevator, he said, is a target for urine scofflaws.

“It’s a sad thing, yeah,” he said.

Beebe and others began nosing about for a solution and discovered a British manufacturer with just the thing. Its UDD comprises sensors, installed along the base of an elevator, that detect the splash of urine. A hidden camera also watches and waits. When urine splatters, sensors sound an alarm, the camera does its job and the elevator drops to the ground floor. There, presumably, waits one of MARTA’s finest.

The trial UDD cost about $20,000 to install, but Beebe anticipates that per-elevator expense will drop to $10,000 as MARTA puts in 80-plus more along its rail lines.

The test-case elevator, whose location he declined to name, was a favorite of urinators, he said. Then MARTA put in the UDD, plus a sign any bozo can understand: ARMED WITH URINE DETECTION DEVICE. The sign also alerts would-be pee-ers that public urination is considered an act of public indecency, a misdemeanor.

Now? “What used to be a daily occurrence has dropped off,” he said.

The UDD initiative complements Ride With Respect, MARTA’s campaign to make the transit experience more enjoyable. The authority also is installing new arrival signs at some locations and has reopened some rest rooms. MARTA counts more than 420,000 daily boardings on its trains and buses; surely some of those people need to go.

Officials say MARTA is the only transit organization in the nation equipping elevators with urine detectors, but that’s likely to change. Other transportation agencies are taking a close look at how well the Atlanta experiment works.

Russ Wells wishes MARTA’s experiment the best. Friday morning, the Cartersville resident and his son, Curtis, stepped into an elevator at Arts Center in Midtown. It was redolent of pine cleaner and, beneath that scent, something more … well, intense.

“Have you ever been in one of these things when it’s full” of urine? he asked. “It’s not pretty.”

Not the sort of thing a commuter wants to whiff on her daily trek, added Diana Jackson. A College Park resident, she takes the train to her banking job in Midtown. In some places, she said, it’s best to hold your breath.

She was unfamiliar with the detection device, but figures they cannot hurt. They certainly won’t affect her, Jackson said.

So, you’re not an elevator urinator, Ms. Jackson?

She laughed.

“Me?” she asked. “Oh no. I’ve never been arrested in my life!”

That brings us back to the alleged peeing perpetrator. Police charged him with public indecency. For him, a different substance has hit the fan.

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