City launches first pay for use toilet
Is it worth 25 cent per visit?
(Column written for Town Crier June 3.)
When you really have to go, some of us would beg, borrow or steal to find a clean, available washroom. But would you be willing to pay a quarter for the privilege?
I wanted to find out for myself if the city’s first automated, self-cleaning, pay-for-use toilet was worth the price of admission.
On a rainy Tuesday afternoon in early June, I headed down to the new $400,000 facility at northwest corner of Rees Street and Queens Quay Boulevard. You can’t miss it. It’s the size of a backyard shed.
Maybe it was knowing I was doing this story on washrooms, but by the time I reached my destination I actually had to use the facility. There was no lineup and a green “vacant” light indicated no one was inside.
I fished out 25 cents and the stainless steel door opened to a clean, ordourless room. Inside I was “welcomed” by an automated female voice telling me the toilet had been fully sanitized since the last use. I was informed I had a maximum time of 20 minutes for my visit at which time the door will automatically open.
Immediately some loud, electronic elevator type music started up that played the entire time. I found it a little disconcerting. I am also informed by the mysterious audio guide there’s automated soap, water and dryer features above the spotless sink.
Other than the music, I don’t hear anything again until the announcement my time is about to expire. When there are two minutes remaining a startling and continuous beeping and flashing red light tells me my time is almost up. And then without any further notice, the door opens to the street.
Apparently, once the door shuts not only does the toilet seat retract for cleaning but water and disinfectants are also sprayed at foot level over the porous floor.
While the experience was a little like being in a cleaner, larger version of an airplane washroom, I’d say if I was in a pinch I would use it again.
I don’t like paying to use the toilet, but I have bought many a tea in a coffee shop in order to use their facilities. I also know which cafes and restaurants around town don’t require a staff member’s permission to use their washroom. So in my opinion, it’s worth a quarter for a clean, available facility.
Unveiled on May 19, it is the first of 20 to be installed in Toronto over the next two decades.
And before you get mad assuming the city (ie taxpayers) foot the bill for this pricey washroom, it didn’t. Astral Media, which has a 20-year street furniture contract with the city, paid for it.
Astral Media makes money selling ads on transit shelters and info booths but the washrooms aren’t cash cows.
At $400,000 for one washroom, it would take 3.2 million visits to recoup the cost based on 25 cent a shot. But it was never meant to be self-financing, a city official tells me.
“The intent was not to recoup costs,” says Kyp Perikleous, with the city’s transportation division. “The city requested a 25 cent charge – that Astral media charge a nominal fee. Research shows it deters non-appropriate activity.”
Hmm. It is possible for four or six small to medium sized people to fit inside a washroom comfortably, if need be. I am not suggesting the washroom be used for illicit meetings, but surely that crossed officials’ minds when the fee was instituted.
A side note: according to news reports, Councillor Howard Moscoe asked the TTC to study the idea of installing them in subway stations. Former TTC chair Moscoe’s suggesting the $400,000 facilities would pay for themselves with a loonie or toonie charge. In the meantime, I am thankful I don’t have to pay each time I use a facility outside my home.
Would you pay a quarter to use this washroom?