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Seattle Flushes $5M High-Tech Toilets 433

Posted by kdawson
from the siruis-cybernetics-corp.-was-here dept.
theodp writes "Hopes were high back in 2004 as Seattle's posh public potties opened for business. But four years later, city officials have said good riddance to the five high-tech toilets, self-cleaning and cylindrical, that had cost Seattle $5 million. The city unloaded them on eBay for just $12,549. The commodes had become filthy hide-outs for drug use and prostitution."
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Seattle Flushes $5M High-Tech Toilets

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  • by bistromath007 (1253428) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:21AM (#24643385)
    We're talking about Seattle, so most of the people there would've been cool with that if the janitor had just visited more often.

    God, I wish I didn't have to move. ;_;
    • Re:Just Remember... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K (682162) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:27AM (#24643445) Homepage

      The insight here was that they were self-cleaning so no need for a janitor.

      But maybe an option should have been that if somebody was there for more than 30 minutes then the self cleaning should have started.

      • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:39AM (#24643557) Homepage Journal

        Hey, the homeless get free showers and the prostitutes stop being dirty*.

        Win/Win.

        *Of course, she might have to do a little gymnastics depending upon the location of the cleansing jets.

      • by nbert (785663) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:55AM (#24643721) Homepage Journal

        The insight here was that they were self-cleaning so no need for a janitor.

        Let's see: They estimated maintenance costs of $600,000 a year [nwsource.com]. I don't know much about wages in the US, but it's fair to assume that 5 janitors would have done the job at a lower price.

        Ignoring the price tag and maintenance cost I'm still wondering why those toilets failed in Seattle. We have toilets from the same manufacturer over here (Berlin, DE) and they don't attract much drug abuse or prostitution, because if you spend too much time in there the door simply opens.
        I'm not kidding, it happened to a friend of mine who for some reason unknown to me decided to roll a joint in there. Since he told me I've stopped using them for their intended purpose.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 18, 2008 @09:10AM (#24643849)

          We have toilets from the same manufacturer over here (Berlin, DE) and they don't attract much drug abuse or prostitution, because if you spend too much time in there the door simply opens.
          I'm not kidding, it happened to a friend of mine who for some reason unknown to me decided to roll a joint in there. Since he told me I've stopped using them for their intended purpose.

          A) Funny parts bolded.

          B) Your friend is slow. I suggest a rolling machine.

        • Re:Just Remember... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by smilindog2000 (907665) <bill@billrocks.org> on Monday August 18, 2008 @09:22AM (#24643979) Homepage

          I'm always amazed at how stupid city councils can be. I live in Chapel Hill, and ours is out-there. Our downtown is suffering from stiff competition from South Point and other new shopping locations. Many stores are closed up, and our downtown may suffer a long slow decay. So what do we do? Our city council's actions over the last 8 years:

          - Bring a homeless shelter 1 block from the center of town
          - Build benches along the main street, one block from the homeless shelter
          - Increase parking rates, and make sure to provide no 2-hour free or validated parking

          Brilliant... just brilliant. Here's a story about our mayor. Our hospital is accessed by a congested two-lane road from the south, and ambulances get stuck just like all the rest. UNC wants to widen the road, and there's plenty of legit reasons why many people oppose the plan. Why does our mayor oppose it? He is opposed to all additional road surface. His compromise plan? Allow the road to be widened, but then remove the pavement from a 4-lane road north of town to offset the total paved area.

          The city council actually passed this plan. When the city called the DOT and asked for the road to be narrowed, the poor guy over there had no idea what to do. There's no road narrowing department at the DOT. Top level people at the DOT were consulted, and it is now standard at DOT to ignore any silly Chapel Hill requests!

        • by fish waffle (179067) on Monday August 18, 2008 @09:58AM (#24644353)

          An expensive, fragile, high-tech gadget is dumped into the public space and ends up broken? I'm shocked.

          I wonder how the argument for these went:

          1. Do you suppose the automatic door-opening could possibly fail or be defeated? No, our technology is foolproof.

          2. Do you suppose people may clog it up in a variety of artful ways? No, why would anyone purposefully mess up a public bathroom?

          3. Do you suppose it may become a way-station for illegal acts that requires around 15min of privacy? No, all illegal acts require very long times and abundant space.

          4. Isn't it expensive to buy/install? Don't worry, people excrete almost continually, the money will just pour in.

          5. Won't it be expensive to maintain? No, modern technology maintains itself.

        • Re:Just Remember... (Score:5, Informative)

          by cnaumann (466328) on Monday August 18, 2008 @10:07AM (#24644455)

          The reason they can't open the doors after a couple of minutes has to do with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). At least that is according to Norman Augustine in Augustine's Laws. By law the toilets must be accessible to handicapped persons. It can take a handicapped person a long time to get there business done.

        • Re:Just Remember... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by MikeyVB (787338) on Monday August 18, 2008 @10:09AM (#24644485)
          We have these same toilets here in Holland, and I have also seen them in Spain. They don't seem to have the same problems the article, but I did notice one big difference in the way they are operated is this: Here in Europe you have to pay 50c to use them. In Seattle they seemed to have been free. I doubt any junkie that has to scrape together money for a fix will waste an extra 50c so they can sit on a toilet while they shoot up. I bet that little 50c hassle is probably enough to deter most of people that cause all the problems.
          • Re:Just Remember... (Score:5, Informative)

            by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday August 18, 2008 @10:42AM (#24645031)
            IT's against state law in Washington to charge for public toliets. Otherwise, they probably would have a small fee.
          • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <.tms. .at. .infamous.net.> on Monday August 18, 2008 @10:45AM (#24645073) Homepage

            Pay toilets were popular in the U.S. in the 1970s. They ended up being banned [wikipedia.org] in many cities; where they weren't, vandalism and theft put them out of business.

            If you consider that the alternative to free public toilets is people pissing, even crapping, in the alleys, then free public toilets are clearly a public good. If people are using them for prostitution and drug use, if homeless people are using them for shelter, that's a symptom of deeper problems. These problems ought to be solved by removing laws against consensual crimes and by addressing homelessness with affordable housing and decent health care - not by encouraging people to piss in the alley.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by b0bby (201198)

              These problems ought to be solved by removing laws against consensual crimes and by addressing homelessness with affordable housing and decent health care - not by encouraging people to piss in the alley.

              I agree with you on the consensual crimes, but homelessness isn't likely to be solved by affordable housing. Many (most?) long term homeless people have serious addiction or mental health issues. Decent mental health care would probably have a big impact, along with rehab programs.

        • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld&gmail,com> on Monday August 18, 2008 @10:28AM (#24644773)

          The difference, I imagine, is in the 'quality' of the public that surrounds the toilets. The particular venue these were installed at in Seattle is a prime tourist area mixed in with a hefty homeless population.

          And since it is thriving with tourists, there is a bit of a crime problem as the more enterprising homeless find ways of making do off them.

          I've never visited Berlin, but my limited knowledge of it is you enjoy moderately pleasant, if unpredictable, summers with bitter winters. That tends to keep the homeless population either down or 'pinned down' to specific areas.

          There hasn't been one time that I've visited Seattle/downtown and not had a problem avoiding tripping over people living on the streets there. It didn't matter where in the area I was.

          Granted, that was downtown. But still, you'd have to be a fool to put out any sort of public facilities there without either the expectation that either they would be trashed almost immediately and continuously, or that you'd have to actually pay someone to monitor them almost 24/7.

        • a friend of mine who for some reason unknown to me decided to roll a joint in there.

          Some unknown reason? Maybe he wanted to get high?

        • by coryking (104614) *

          If I designed them, I'd do two things:

          1) I'd sell advertising on the side
          2) I'd charge $0.25 for 15 minutes (with no ability to add $0.25 from inside).

          Seriously, if you godda drop a duce, are you gonna use a free bathroom, or are you gonna beg borrow and steat a quarter to go to a pay restroom? Now imagine your wife.

          Keep in mind these are all psychological, not "real". People will perceive the pay-restroom to be higher quality, better maintained (even if it isn't), and more sanitary.

          Adding advertising mak

      • Re:Just Remember... (Score:4, Informative)

        by Tom (822) on Monday August 18, 2008 @10:45AM (#24645075) Homepage Journal

        Please RTFA. Among other details:

        a) The self-cleaning broke down somewhere during the 4 years
        b) It already has a time-limit (15 minutes) after which it simply opens the door

  • Tragic. (Score:5, Funny)

    by dangitman (862676) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:22AM (#24643389)
    And common.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:23AM (#24643409)

    In Vancouver, BC, drug use and prostitution are (if not outright legal) decriminalized. This means that the government is able to help those with a problem instead of being forced to put them away in prison.

    The public toilets getting abused is a sign of a much deeper problem. It's the puritanical mindset of Americans that pushes these normal behaviors into the shadows and away from the help that the victims so desperately need.

    It's a total waste of time to sell these things. It just means fewer public bathrooms downtown, and if you've ever been to a city with no public bathrooms (Philadelphia), you know that the terrible smell is the result.

    • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:32AM (#24643505)

      It's the puritanical mindset of Americans that pushes these normal behaviors into the shadows

      Into the shadows? Hardly. Sounds like you've never been to Victor Steinbrueck Park [wikipedia.org] in the middle of the most touristy section of Seattle, where you can see dozens of addicts and homeless cheerfully loitering about day or night. From Wikipedia:

      "The park is a popular gathering place for tourists, but also for the mentally ill, vagrants, alcoholics, and drug addicts. Public inebriation, nudity, and calls for assistance for unconscious individuals are common; a fall-off due to increased policing in the 1990s proved shortlived. There are a lot of drug-related misdemeanors and even minor felonies, though there have been no homicides."

      The only thing I find shocking is that this outcome surprised anyone.

      • by The_Mr_Flibble (738358) on Monday August 18, 2008 @09:04AM (#24643789)

        "The park is a popular gathering place for tourists, but also for the mentally ill, vagrants, alcoholics, and drug addicts. Public inebriation, nudity, and calls for assistance for unconscious individuals are common; a fall-off due to increased policing in the 1990s proved shortlived. There are a lot of drug-related misdemeanors and even minor felonies, though there have been no homicides."

        Hey I'm british
        That describes just about any sort of park I visit

      • by ktappe (747125) on Monday August 18, 2008 @10:37AM (#24644921)

        The only thing I find shocking is that this outcome surprised anyone.

        Surprised, no. Disappointed, yes. I saw self-cleaning public toilets last week in Paris that were being used by the public for what they were intended for, not for illicit behavior. Why is it they work there and not in Seattle? My theory is that it's a societal thing--for some reason the citizenry of Seattle did not kick the druggies and prostitutes out of the toilets when they saw them. If a high enough % of the public objects to bad behavior, it becomes unacceptable and it stops. Parisians apparently made it clear that they wanted their toilets to stay toilets whereas Seattle-ites didn't care enough to maintain control of their city. Until Americans stand up and take back their streets, this is the type of result we might as well get used to.

        • by grahamm (8844) <gmurray@webwayone.co.uk> on Monday August 18, 2008 @11:36AM (#24645971) Homepage

          Though the 'access gratuit' sanisettes in Paris are only open from 06:00 to 22:00, and it is not (or was not when I was there a couple of months ago) uncommon to see them out of use.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 18, 2008 @12:03PM (#24646423)

          As a Parisian, I can tell you that the people here will probably not move their finger to prevent druggies and prostitutes in toilets. But the cops will.

          I think the issue in Seattles is the classic political correctness of Americans:

          Toilets had to be accessible to disabled people.

          Due to that requirement, you end up with huge toilets, which, by definition, have more use than the Parisian sanisette (I think that if a prostitute went with customers in a sanisette, there would probably be people outside clapping their hands when they would come out, due to sheer awesomeness of such an act).

          Also, being huge, Seattles sanisettes were costly, so they ended up with only 5. 5 is a very small number, so of course they have been broken very fast.

          In Paris, sanisettes are NOT accessible to disabled people. There are special ones that ARE accessible, but those are NOT accessible to the general public (you need a specific card), so they are kept in a correct state.

          That is not politically correct. But it works.

    • I'm guessing you have never been to the downtown east side in Vancouver.

      They are not even close to decriminalized. Just because they have one safe injection site does not mean that the police won't arrest you for dealing. It also does not mean they won't arrest you if they catch you using drugs in public.

      The reality of the downtown east side is that injection drug use is so rampant that the police couldn't arrest everyone who did it even if they wanted to. The single safe injection site isn't even close to large enough and neither are the detox centers. The result is that the dug users still shoot up in the alleys.

    • by Kinwolf (945345) on Monday August 18, 2008 @09:07AM (#24643813)
      How can it be decriminalised in Vancouver? Drug use and prostitution is a federal offense written in the criminal code of Canada, no city law can change or overrule that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by nsayer (86181) *

        Local decriminalization typically means that the cops simply don't go out of their way to uncover and investigate certain crimes, regardless of whether or not they're federal, state or local ordinance violations.

        Just for instance, the San Mateo county sheriff's office recently raided a home poker tournament [examiner.com]. I guess they weren't interested in prosecuting prostitution [sfgate.com].

    • by goodmanj (234846) on Monday August 18, 2008 @09:40AM (#24644167)

      There was an article on this in the NY Times a couple of weeks ago. In addition to drug use and prostitution, people would leave so much trash in the toilets that the automatic scrubbers had to be disabled or they jammed on the trash... and as a result, the toilets became so disgusting that even the druggies avoided them.

      ""I'm not going to lie: I used to smoke crack in there," said one homeless woman, Veronyka Cordner, nodding toward the toilet behind Pike Place Market. "But I won't even go inside that thing now. It's disgusting.""

      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/17/us/17toilets.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=seattle%20public%20toilet&st=cse&oref=slogin [nytimes.com]

      IMO, the reason this works in other countries but not in the U.S. has nothing to do with our "puritanical mindset": instead, it's because Americans have no concept of public common space. We feel that everything on Earth is for our exclusive personal use until someone tries to stop us.

    • "The public toilets getting abused is a sign of a much deeper problem. It's the puritanical mindset of Americans that pushes these normal behaviors into the shadows and away from the help that the victims so desperately need."

      That's a crock of BS. It's puritanical to expect people not to do really, really stupid things? Because heroin isn't exactly an unknown quantity. We've known that it's 100 percent addictive for, oh, centuries now. If you're a smack addict, you're not a victim. You did it to yourself. Y

      • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <.tms. .at. .infamous.net.> on Monday August 18, 2008 @11:30AM (#24645829) Homepage

        Because heroin isn't exactly an unknown quantity. We've known that it's 100 percent addictive for, oh, centuries now.

        Except that heroin is not 100% addictive: perhaps more like 10% [reason.com] of heroin users are addicts. And it was first synthesized in 1874 and only became popular after it was independently re-synthesized 23 years later, and was marketed as a non-addictive morphine substitute until 1910 [wikipedia.org] - its addictive nature has in fact been understood for less than a century.

        You know what's going to happen when you put that needle in your arm. You know because everyone else that's done it has ended up the same way.

        Yeah, you might end up like David Bowie or Keith Richards or hundreds of other famous musicians, actors, writers, artists who have used heroin...for those can afford their fix and have access to the pure stuff, heroin use or even addiction is not a big deal [guardian.co.uk]. It's less damaging to your body than addiction to cigarettes or alcohol.

        As Bill Hicks [alternativereel.com] noted, "If you don't think drugs have done good things for us, then take all of your records, tapes and CDs and burn them. Cause you know what? The musicians that made all that great music that's enhanced your lives throughout the years? Real fucking high on drugs."

        Which is not to suggest anyone go shoot heroin. The crap you buy from typical street dealers is cut with gods-only-know-what and may well kill you; and really, there are better ways to spend your time and money.

        And yet, after decades of "tolerance" they're busy dismantling the Red Light district in Amsterdam

        Again, your facts are in error. The prostitution shops were only licensed in 2000, not "decades" ago. And they're shutting down owners believed to have criminal connections, not the entire district.

        I will recommend Peter McWilliams' book Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country, available online at www.mcwilliams.com [mcwilliams.com].

        Sadly, McWilliams became a victim of the War on (some) Drugs when his access to medical marijuana, used to treat symptoms of AIDS and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was ended; forced to switch to the ineffective Marinol, he aspirated his own vomit and choked to death.

        The misinformation you are spreading is killing people. Please, cut it out.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bogjobber (880402)

        Wow, you're completely misinformed. Somebody already covered the Amsterdam angle, so I'll go after Las Vegas.

        Prostitution is not legal in Las Vegas. It is legal in most of Nevada, and in most of Nevada it works quite well. The brothels are always away from the main part of the town, and they can't advertise so most tourists have no idea they are even there. They are clean and health inspectors make sure everything is on the up-and-up, which isn't always the case in Amsterdam. It's legal, so the women a

  • by Apple Acolyte (517892) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:25AM (#24643421)
    must have been swimming in their people's money to buy $5M in toilets. If I were a resident I'd be quite enraged over it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CaptainZapp (182233) *

      must have been swimming in their people's money to buy $5M in toilets. If I were a resident I'd be quite enraged over it.

      The City of Zurich [wikipedia.org], with a population of roughly 400'000 has an annual budget of 18M Swiss Francs (17M $) for public toilets and the citizenship actually appreciates it.

      It's probably all a matter of perspective, but I have the strong impression that USians really detest paying taxes for anything. Infrastucture, like clean public toilets, working and reliable public transports and a canal system that doesn't ooze shit stench out of the pavements has a price. And in other parts of the world citizens are wi

  • 1. Legalize drugs and prostitution.

    2. ???

    3. PROFIT!!!

    • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:52AM (#24643699) Homepage Journal

      1. Legalize drugs and prostitution.

      2. ???

      3. PROFIT!!!

      But how do they profit when they can't steal^Wseize your property on a whim any more?

    • by Osurak (1013927)

      1. Legalize drugs and prostitution.

      2. ???

      3. PROFIT!!!

      You forgot a step:

      4. Get voted out of office at the earliest opportunity.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Darby (84953)

        4. Get voted out of office at the earliest opportunity.

        It's a sad thing when standing up for the Constitution and working to greatly reduce violent crime guarantees someone would get voted out.

  • This is why Amsterdam has public toilets that look like this: http://lh3.ggpht.com/_D4avj_GZuq4/SAsa2yTgvYI/AAAAAAAAB6E/ANS4tx2JuKc/toilet.jpg [ggpht.com]

    Sure, it is not very private, nor can it be considered to be self-cleaning. But they aren't very attractive hideouts for prostitution and drug use either.

    Haha! As if Amsterdam had any prostitution or drug use going!

    • by Loibisch (964797) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:30AM (#24643493)

      Amsterdam's toilets look like a 404? What, do you have to piss into the hole between the two fours?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Colin Smith (2679)

        Nah, they just have a quick thinking sysadmin who reads Slashdot.

         

  • $5,000,000? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SoupIsGoodFood_42 (521389) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:28AM (#24643461)

    Sounds like they got ripped off in the first place. It shouldn't cost that much to develop something like that unless you have no clue about what you're doing.

    • by jimicus (737525)

      Sounds like they got ripped off in the first place. It shouldn't cost that much to develop something like that unless you have no clue about what you're doing.

      Chances are the sale cost was based on "what the manufacturer thinks customers would be willing to pay" rather than "what they cost to develop".

    • by jcupitt65 (68879)

      Automated Public Conveniences have been around for years. For example:

      http://www.jcdecaux.co.uk/development/apc/ [jcdecaux.co.uk]

      cost around £100,000 to buy and install, then some amount each year for maintenance. I guess they spent so much on the install they had no money left to look after the things.

    • Re:$5,000,000? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dr. Hok (702268) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:51AM (#24643687)

      Sounds like they got ripped off in the first place.

      True, especially since we have the same toilets here (Berlin, Germany). IIRC they were installed for free, the deal being that the toilet operator uses the outside walls for advertising. And gets 50c per pee, but I doubt that this covers the expenses.

      AFAICT we don't have any problems with drugs and prostitution on these toilets, in case you're curious.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tom (822)

      Like so many others, you didn't RTFA, it seems.

      The $5 mio. was not the initial price-tag. It was the accumulated cost, mostly of maintainance, over a period of four years. So it's not development costs, but maintainance, cleaning (the self-clean broke down), etc.

  • by wisty (1335733) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:28AM (#24643463)
    I'm sorry David, I can't do that.
  • by niceone (992278) * on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:28AM (#24643467) Journal
    I'm confused. This type of toilet is quite popular all sorts of places, so I guess they must be cheaper than providing toilets in some other way. But as Seattle aren't going to be replacing them with anything else... that is going to be cheaper. So, what's the story? That Seattle can't afford public toilets?
    • by aussie_a (778472)

      Seems pretty messed up when an entire city can't have public toilets. As an Australian we have an entire country filled with public toilets. Seems to be a non-issue over here.

    • by couchslug (175151) on Monday August 18, 2008 @09:12AM (#24643871)

      Public facilities in some areas will be ruined by the hopeless loser (it's no troll to call them what they are!) segment of the public, such as bums, drunks, and junkies. That makes providing those facilities a waste.

  • War on Drugs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:30AM (#24643491)

    Just gets better and better.

    Still, you get the government you deserve.

     

    • Just gets better and better.

      Still, you get the government you deserve.

      Yeah, because it's so much better if you let the smack addicts do it anywhere.

      I"ve got my qualms with the so-called "war on drugs" too, but I get tired of people blaming things like junkies ruining public toilets on the government, when the fault lies with junkies ruining public toilets. Nobody made that asshole stick a needle in his arm. And unless the guy was born yesterday, I'm pretty sure he knew what he was getting into when he chose to stick that needle in his arm. Everyone pretty much knows what happ

  • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fyz (581804) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:31AM (#24643501)
    That sucks, but this is how progress works. You can't know if something will pan out in advance, because there are too many variables.

    And if it had been a massive success, $5M would have been pocket change compared to the convenience and cost effectiveness of full automation.
  • by curmudgeon99 (1040054) <curmudgeon99NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:33AM (#24643517)
    How on earth did five toilets for $5 million get green-lighted? It must have been a consultant spending somebody else's money and with a fee to justify. How are the voters of Seattle going to reward that terrible waste? Just crazy. That's what's wrong with American right now--so many people willing to screw their fellow man if they can make a dollar off of it. Call it the American way (I would not) but it's killing us. We need to get some honesty and proportion back in our daily lives and business.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:40AM (#24643573)

    Google is offering the use of a new set of public gToilets in exchange for the ability to scan your waste for leftover products and potential diseases and then offer you contextual ads while you're in the unit.

  • Such a unique chance for toilet humor and already pages and pages of replies but still nothing?

    What happened to the /. we all loved so much?

  • by Smivs (1197859) <smivs@smivsonline.co.uk> on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:44AM (#24643619) Homepage Journal

    So Seattle's authorities were flushed with success untill their 'Big Idea' went down the pan!

  • They need to have the toilet be able to give a shower or open the door automatically after a length of time. In particular, I would think that it should open up after 5 minutes UNLESS the person pushes a button within that timeframe.
  • by TorKlingberg (599697) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:46AM (#24643633)
    This is like when they put up park benches that are intentionally made uncomfortable to sleep on. I understand why, but something is just wrong with society when that happens.
  • by sckeener (137243) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:48AM (#24643655)

    From the article the issue was keeping the self-cleaning toilets clean...they got clogged with trash.

    The drug use and prostitution bit was a worry in the original article when they were being installed.

  • by edittard (805475) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:53AM (#24643711)

    Slashdot - news of turds, stuff that splatters.

  • I mean, where are good honest Republicans like our men Larry Craig [wikipedia.org] and Bob Allen [wikipedia.org] going to go for a little dick?
  • by FornaxChemica (968594) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:57AM (#24643735) Homepage Journal
    Does that mean they just had sex there or that the ladies were actually soliciting the clients from inside the toilet room? And most important of all, were they dubbed "high-tech prostitutes" as a result? I wonder if there's any geek among the old profession who will be kind enough to provide the technical details...
  • and seattle, the home of starbucks, should have known that

    i'm dead serious. i live in midtown manhattan, and finding a toilet for a tourist, nevermind a resident, is near impossible were it not for a certain chain of coffee shops that monopolize every street corner. and they always have a restroom (unless they are those tiny stores), and those restrooms are open to the public without fail. there are some starbucks nearby subway entrances where if you go sit, you'll notice there is a regular stream of visitors... to the commode, and no one even pretends to want to buy a coffee

    you really have to understand what a blessing this is. it really is unique to starbucks: every other establishment, including mcdonalds and other fast food places, are usually hostile to making its restrooms available. but i guess coffee chases away vagrants, as the unstable and stinky always seem to congregate to mcdonalds for their restroom needs, bothering the grumbling manager behind the counter for a key rather than shuffling a few more steps around the corner to go to a keyless starbucks restroom. why the homeless do this, i don't know, but that is 100% true. habit? familiarity?

    i used to think the city made starbucks keep their restrooms open for this very reason, as it is such a huge boon in convenience for midtown visitors, workers, and residents. or perhaps a marketing droid at starbucks headquarters noticed a correlation between sales and restroom availability? who knows, but for a non-new york city resident, it is hard to understand what a blessing starbucks restrooms have been for the city

    whatever the reason for the mana from heaven of bum-free starbucks commodes in midtown, i'd like to thank starbucks with my very own original marketing slogan, they can use it free of charge:

    "if you are thinking of something steaming and brown, think starbucks in midtown" ;-)

  • by permaculture (567540) on Monday August 18, 2008 @10:26AM (#24644753) Homepage Journal

    In Richmond, UK:

    http://www.richmond.gov.uk/home/transport_and_streets/road_and_pathway_maintenance/public_conveniences/community_toilet_scheme.htm [richmond.gov.uk]

    the Local Council will give you an annual grant if your shop's staff toilet is opened to the public. To qualify, it has to be free for use, even for non-customers. Pubs which join the scheme have a notice put up outside.

    This is cheaper than opening separate public use toilets, and helps the shops and pubs keep their toilets funded.

  • Over engineering (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday August 18, 2008 @11:20AM (#24645679) Journal

    600.000 a year a piece?

    Now, what would it really have cost to have a toilet lady in a simple old fashioned public toilet who just cleanes the place, keeps an eye out on the area?

    But no, the public toilets are closed, the toilet ladies fired and people pee against building and then we spend years trying to find high-tech solutions.

    Say a single toilet lady makes 100k a year, a nice salary indeed for cleaning. That would have allowed 6 people to have a job, more then enough to keep one place staffed 24/7. No need for a 9/11 link or a 15 minute deadline.

    Really, there is such a thing as overthinking a problem.

  • A UK solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mikael (484) on Monday August 18, 2008 @11:41AM (#24646053)

    Business owners across the city have been forced to figure out ways to keep drug users and others out of their bathrooms while keeping the toilets open to customers.

    One UK town had that problem with drug users. There was a simple solution - they noticed that some restrooms had no problems with druggies even though there was the same population, same level of cleaning and security. The only difference was that the restroom had some rather cheap fluorescent lights of a single light wavelength. While this was adequate for basic hygiene and safety, it made it impossible for drug users to see their veins in order to use needles. As a consequence, they would avoid that particular restroom.

  • Automatic toilets (Score:3, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Monday August 18, 2008 @12:09PM (#24646533) Homepage

    San Francisco has similar toilets, from JCDecaux [jcdecauxna.com]. They're ad-supported, plus most of them charge money. JCDecaux, not the city, services them, and they do a relatively good job, which they have to do to keep the advertising contract. The San Francisco experience is that they work fine in the tourist areas and need too much maintenance in the homeless areas. SF gives homeless people a free token; it opens the toilet like coins, but the token comes back out the coin return.

    Part of the problem was the insistence that they be wheelchair accessible. JCDeaux installs a smaller version in Paris, which takes up less space on the street (it will fit on most sidewalks), and isn't big enough for prostitution, drug dealing, or sleeping. But in the US, they're forced to install the big model, which is about the size of a parking space.

    Palo Alto has two units. Theirs take credit cards. Really.

    These things are far more expensive than they should be, costing about $1,000,000 each over 5 years. There's no good reason these things should cost far more than an SUV, but they do. I've seen the mechanism being serviced. It's put together from stock Telemechanique industrial automation components, which is reliable but is designed for one-off applications. If you built a washing machine that way, it would cost about $20,000. These things are engineered like prototypes. They need to be re-engineered for volume production and the cost brought down to under $50,000.

  • by PhilipPeake (711883) on Monday August 18, 2008 @12:36PM (#24646973)

    There was nothing at all wrong with the toilets it appears, but a more serious problem with the denizens of Seattle.

    The versions in use in Paris work just fine, and have worked so for close to 20 years. Initially there was a (small) problem with people spending too long in there (for whatever reason), but a simple change to the software to open the doors after a reasonable amount of time to do what these were intended for fixed that problem.

    The only other adjustment that was made was to reduce the sensitivity of the pressure sensor in the floor so that it registered small children - this after a dumb parent ignored the sign saying that children under 5 had to be accompanied by an adult, the toilet thought it was empty, and began its cleaning cycle.

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