Thursday, July 17, 2008

Kissing the Porcelain Goodbye

I've been busy posting to the Flyer's site this morning (this whole Rampage Jackson thing is crazy! You can't flee the scene of a crime in a vehicle that has a giant picture of your face on it! C'mon!), but this is the another kind of story I can't ignore: million-dollar toilets.

After spending $5 million on five automated public toilets, the city of Seattle has put them up on eBay, starting the bidding at $89,000 each.

Apparently, even though the automated toilets are supposed to clean themselves after each use (disinfecting the seat and power-washing the floors), the restrooms became so filthy that rarely anyone used them. (Even a woman who said she used to smoke crack there thought they were too disgusting to use.)

Seattle blames the potty problems on installing the toilets in areas that already had a lot of drug activity, combined with the fact that the taxpayers are picking up the tab.

From the NYTimes:

"In the typical arrangement involving cities that want to try automated toilets, an outdoor advertising company like JCDecaux provides, operates and maintains them for the municipality in exchange for a right to place ads on public property like bus stops and kiosks. Revenue from the advertisers flows to both the company and the city.

But a strict advertising law here barred officials from such an arrangement, meaning Seattle had to pick up the entire $5 million cost. 'That’s a lot of money, a whole lot,' said Ray Hoffman, director of corporate policy for Seattle Public Utilities, the municipal water and sewage agency that ran the project.

Richard McIver, a Seattle city councilman, agrees. 'Other cities around the world seem to be able to handle toilets civilly,' Mr. McIver said. 'But we were unable to control the street population, and without the benefit of advertising, our costs were awfully high.'”

But instead of just flushing all that money down the toilet, Seattle may be able to recoup some of their losses through the eBay sale. New York, Los Angeles, and Boston are all spending money to install more automated restrooms.

Memphis has struggled with a similar situation. If I remember correctly, restroom facilities at Tom Lee park are a little hut that's been padlocked shut. When Robert Church park was being renovated several years ago, council woman Barbara Swearengen Ware kept asking where the public toilets were going to go. The administration told her that it couldn't keep public restrooms clean — they had problems with vandals, drug users, etc. — and instead of building something just to lock it up, they could always go the port-o-john route.

Which is also what I think is done at Overton (and I've heard horror stories about that, too.)

Just a word to the wise, if you're interesting in purchasing one of Seattle's toilets (and, no, I don't know why you would be), the eBay listing says you'll need to remove it no later than 3 weeks from the close of the auction.

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