V/Line overcomplicate the toilet door

Doors are a simple thing, having existed for hundreds of years. So how did V/Line manage to overcomplicate a door so much, that a three step instruction manual and regular audio announcements were required?

'Ensure your privacy' signage inside the disabled toilet onboard a VLocity train

This is the disabled toilet onboard a VLocity train. Introduced to service back in 2005, each train consists of three carriages. One carriage has a small toilet with a standard door lock, while the third carriage has an electrically operated door to provide easy access for anyone using a mobility aid.

Direct toilet views onboard a VLocity train

Inside the door are three buttons, with a ‘You must push [lock] to lock door’ sticker alongside.

'You must push [lock] to lock door' sign inside a VLocity toilet


The complaints begin

With such a complicated system of locking the toilet door, you can expect that many users won’t be able to work it out – and you would be right.

I found this piece from 2006 on a blog titled ‘V/Line Whinger’.

Toilet doors..ahem.
Lets just say if you’re gonna make the toilet door electronic and the person has pressed the “Lock” button, make sure the bloody thing actually locks. (Like with a LOCKING pin).
I was sitting down on the throne the other day and noticed the gap in the door sliding open a couple of cm’s despite the fact I’d pressed the lock button.
I feel sorry for the poor soul sitting with their pants down and it fails completely going around a fast bend, exposing them to the view of the whole carriage.

Followed by this comment from 2008 on the Railpage Australia forums:

Although I have never seen it, I reckon that the disabled toilets on the VLocity’s are an extremely embarrassing moment waiting to happen.
All you need to do is forget to push the “lock” button, someone outside presses the “open” button and “oh sh–“, the whole carriage sees you sitting on the throne.
Has anyone ever seen this happen or had it happen to them.
As an extra precaution, whenever I’m on a VLocity I will always use the other toilet which has a more conventional lock on it.

With another poster weighting in.

I must admit that very experience did happen to me. I was convinced I had pressed the lock button, but (fortunately as I was washing my hands) the door suddenly opened. The person wanting to come in was more embarrassed than I was…

And another.

It basically happens every-time I’m on a VLocity run, I t don’t understand why there is a separate buttons to close and another to lock the door. it’s not a very intuitive system unless your used to it.

V/Line’s initial solution to the problem – asking conductors to make an announcements as part of their opening spiel, telling passengers to press the lock button in addition to the close door button.

Interior of 13xx car inserted into 'original' interior VLocity unit VL07

But a poor design will fight back against any awareness campaign – I found another blog post from 2013 from a passenger who encountered two separate people getting surprised while sitting on a VLocity train toilet.

My own eyes saw a lady enter the toilets and at the time I didn’t know the system of lights on or lights off for occupied. I then saw a young man come along and press the button to open the door to the toilet. To gasps and horror down the whole train that had a full view of the toilet door, it opened where a lady was seen jumping from the toilet and franticly trying to close the door. The young man stood there in shook, before running away.

Then not even 10 minutes later another young woman entered the toilet as I thought “god I hope that wouldn’t happen again”. As I turned away and looked back a young woman with her face in her phone was at the toilet door and pushed the button to open the door again. To everyone’s shock the door opened revealing another lady jumping from the toilet and trying to close the door. The lady on the phone waited outside laughing and then entered the toilet.

By this time I noticed when the light is off the door is locked from the inside not merely just closed. The lady who just entered hadn’t locked the door. Thankfully no one came by again and no one else was embarrassed.

This leads to the question why? Why does the door not automatically lock when closed? Why is there a system that you need to press a second button whilst inside to lock the door. Once inside there is a big sign on the door that reads, please lock the door to avoid embarrassment. This sign obviously is not working.

V-line may I suggest two ways to fix the problem. Place a sign on the outside of the door, so it can be seen before entering, or change the whole system that the door is also locked once closed.

Clearly this is a major problem and I’m sure as it happened in the time frame that I was on the train it has happened many times before.

How many complaint letters have you received so far?

And how about the visually impaired?

The point of the electronic operated lock was to allow mobility impaired passengers to use the onboard toilet without assistance. But what about visually impaired passengers, who are unable to see a blinking light?

Electronic controls for the disabled toilet door onboard a VLocity train

In January 2015 the Latrobe Valley Express took up the cause, after a legally blind Traralgon resident pointed out the flaws in the door locking system.

Flushing out some issues
Jessica Chambers
8 Jan 2015

V/Line has answered calls to upgrade its trains toilets to avoid embarrassing problems for users with a visual impairment.

Legally blind Traralgon resident Phillip Chalker said there was no way of telling when the toilet doors on a V/Line train were locked, leading to users being walked in on.

“They have three buttons with lights on them, but this is not an accessible method because a person who is blind or vision impaired cannot tell if the door is locked or not,” Mr Chalker said.

“To make the toilet doors on V/Line trains more accessible they need to come up with a better solution, such as making the buttons on the toilet doors audible with a sound.”

A V/Line spokesperson said the organisation was aware of these concerns and was about to embark on a trial, which would test an audible locking system on VLocity trains.

“The system will be set up to provide audible information to customers using the toilet, through a speaker in the bathroom cabin,” a spokesperson said.

“Our fleet engineers are currently fine-tuning a prototype and once finalised, we’ll start testing the audible locking system on the network.”

The spokesperson said V/Line would monitor the trial for several months, taking on board customer feedback, before rolling out the system on VLocity units.

“These projects take time to implement, but our accessibility team will continue to keep customers updated on the progress,” the spokesperson said.

V/Line publishes an Accessibility Action Plan, updated every three years, but the 2015-2018 edition of the plan doesn’t mention anything about an audible locking system.

I ended up sending an email to V/Line on the topic, with their reply dated June 2017 stating:

Currently 79% of the VLocity fleet have been fitted with the messaging system. All new VLocity trains being delivered are pre-fitted with this system.

I recently encountered a train fitted with the audible locking system.

On entering the toilet and pushing the ‘door close’ button, the following audio announcement plays:

To ensure your privacy, please lock the toilet door by pushing the key button

It begs two questions – how did such a fundamental accessibility flaw escape unnoticed for over a decade, and will this extra piece of passenger information finally address the usability flaws of an overcomplicated door locking system?

A possible solution?

A Twitter follower forwarded this photo, showing how a ‘virtual’ lock handle could solve the problem for good.

The style of the other push buttons appears identical to those already used onboard VLocity trains!

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14 Responses to “V/Line overcomplicate the toilet door”

  1. Daniel Bowen says:

    I saw a similar issue occur with a toilet door on a UK Scotrail sprinter back in 1998, so it’s not a unique or new phenomenon!

  2. Cat says:

    I witnessed a near miss for train staff in respect to this ridiculous system. A lady went in, the door opened unexpectedly, and her young male partner promptly became very aggressive toward a train staff member who happened to be passing. Eventually, all settled down but the system is likely to provoke not only distress and embarrassment but also aggression and hostility toward workers. The new updated audio systems are no better than those without, it is not immediately obvious what the instruction actually means. Nor does it address the issue of passengers who do not have English as a first language, or people who may have cognitive issues. In short it suggests extremely poor engineering standards.

  3. Kevin says:

    “On entering the toilet and pushing the ‘door close’ button, the following audio announcement plays:

    To ensure your privacy, please lock the toilet door by pushing the key button”

    Is there any process used to bring this requirement for a further action to the attention of Deaf and hearing impaired passengers? Flashing lights? Vibration?

    • Alan says:

      The lock button flashes, and there is a prominent sticker on the toilet wall (see the first photo in the blog post).

  4. andrew says:

    Isn’t the solution to the underlying problem obvious?

    Wire up the doors so that the ‘close’ button also triggers the ‘lock’ circuit. You could even leave the ‘lock’ button there; no harm is done if someone notices it and pushes it as well.

    (Of course, the issue is that this is not a simple door, and its operation is not just second nature to people. The controls require some thought.)

    • Rockgecko says:

      @andrew: It’s not so simple:

      -If the close button also locks, then people can lock it from the outside by pressing the button and walking away (either by mistake, or deliberately if they want to be a nuisance)

      -The door also closes automatically after a time. The toilet doesn’t know if there’s someone in or not, so a separate lock button is required in the situation where the door closed on you automatically, but you are inside and want to lock it.

      They should have used a regular sliding door latch to lock (keeping the open/close buttons).

      On The Overland (Melbourne – Adelaide), the conductor spoke for several *minutes* about the different doors on the train. How to lock the toilet door, how to walk between carriages with automatic doors, how to find the door handle on the dining car…
      The toilet had a curtain in front of it, presumably because so many people couldn’t figure out the lock.

  5. Adam says:

    People still have trouble opening the simple external doors on the N sets (and they only require pushing on the door where it says “push”). The disabled doors can’t Auto lock – to prevent accidental locking (you don’t want to cause everyone to be locked out from using it because someone caused it to auto lock), placing sensors in the toilet to try and determine if someone is inside or not would just become another point of failure that won’t be obvious (plus how many would feel comfortable being monitored in the toilet?) A manual lock still requires waiting for the door to close before being able to lock it which people can still forget do.

  6. mich says:

    There are “ambulant toilets” all over the place, and I reckon 5% of people have no idea what that means.

    Apparently, it means normal people, or semi-disabled people walking with crutches. How many of those do you actually see these days ?

  7. […] overcomplicated toilet doors that could not be used by the visually […]

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