Why does it take nine years to install three public toilets in NYC?

The travails of providing a public place to pee include politics, bureaucracy and an obscenely high annual maintenance cost

Grand Army Plaza

Grand Army Plaza

Ever wonder why when you’re out and about and you really have to go, there’s never a toilet around to save the day, and you're forced to shell out $4 at Starbucks to use their crummy facilities? That’s because in the past nine years, in a city with about 10 million people, there have been only three public restrooms installed: one in Madison Square Park; another in Corona, Queens; and a third in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn.

The issue has eluded politicians for years until Michael Bloomberg decided to step up to the plate. In 2005, the Department of Transportation (DoT) awarded Cemusa, a Spanish "street furniture" company, a contract to build and maintain public toilets, newsstands and bus shelters for the city. When it comes to the latter two amenities, they’ve done pretty well; all those that were promised were built (that's 304 newsstands and 3,355 bus shelters, for the record).

Lavatories for the people are another story. Cemusa promised to build 20 new toilets over the course of its 20-year contract, but in almost a decade since the agreement began, NYC has seen only three new ones. Apparently, getting approval for a public bathroom is as difficult as hailing a taxi in the rain during rush hour. The Department of Transportation has to inspect the proposed site, and then get approval from the local community board, and then from the Public Development Corporation, and then from some other important people who are subject to object.

Meanwhile, maintaining a toilet costs a whopping $40,000 per year—and that's on top of the $500,000 necessary to install it. That makes the $6 or $8 fee to use those members-only bathrooms, set to open in NYC this summer, seem totally worthwhile. It also makes sense that some smart folks are sensing entrepreneurial opportunities—like the Airpnp app—in the bureaucratically, uh, clogged issue.

The city's DoT is now considering new locations for public restrooms including Tillary Street and Williamsburg Bridge Plaza in Brooklyn, Plaza de las Americas in Washington Heights, 125th Street in Harlem and Fordham Plaza in the Bronx.

Readers, do you want to see public toilets installed? If so, where would you like to see them built?

(h/t The New York Times)

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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)


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