It's a far cry from grandpa's outhouse. And there's no crescent moon carved in the door. This one is definitely 21st century.
Last weel. a crowd gathered at Metro's Huntington Station on the Yellow Line to introduce the first public restroom within the system. Operated entirely through a self-contained computer, it is one of only two prototypes in the nation.
After a long running dispute between those who have argued for such readily accessible public facilities and those who have argued against them, based on cost and security concerns, the new self contained unit was launched as a one-year experiment. It is hoped it will increase ridership and lead to the availability of restroom facilities at the majority of stations throughout the system.
"My arching hope is that the use of this facility will also lead to the public use of the existing restrooms," said Lee District Supervisor and member of the Metro Board, Dana Kauffman. "We definitely need increased ridership, particularly in the off-peak hours."
When Metrorail was originally constructed, public restrooms were not part of the design due to construction and maintenance costs, coupled with safety and security concerns, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Existing restrooms were designed and located for employee use only.
"This new facility will give our customers yet another reason to take Metro in comfort and confidence," Kauffman said. "I look forward to seeing many seniors, parents with small children, and others utilizing this facility."
Manufactured in New Zealand, the new toilet is a single-stall, stainless steel unit located inside the fare gate at Huntington's north mezzanine. It provides customers with the use of a toilet, soap, toilet tissue, water dispensing and hand drying. There is an automatic interior chemical spray cleaning cycle after each use. It is ADA compliant.
THE RETRACTABLE seat is automatically cleaned after every use and the entire unit is self cleaned after every 30 uses through a self contained computerized monitoring unit. When human maintenance attention is needed it automatically alerts kiosk personnel and reminds them, "Service is needed."
Controls for entry and exit are built into the stainless steel walls of the unit next to its sleeve door. Maximum use time per customer is 10 minutes with a 60 second warning.
"It has its own air conditioning/heating element with self flushing, retractable self cleaning toilet seat and automatic hand wash and dryer unit," said Doug Stoner, president, Exeloo East, manufactures of the unit. "This is the first unit installed in the United States. There will be another as part of the Atlanta system."
TOTAL COST for the experimental unit is $109,000. That includes $39,000 per year for leasing, an additional $55,000 for site renovation, installation, and water, sewer, and electrical hook-ups. There is an addition $14,000 per year for routine maintenance/service.
"Labor maintenance costs are what has killed the use of restrooms at metro stations across the nation," Stoner said. "This unit will lock itself down at night and automatically open in the morning. It can be monitored remotely through a built-in modem that can also send messages of any trouble to the kiosk."
Also on-hand for the ceremony was Robert Brubaker, director, Metroped, Inc., an advocate of restroom accessibility at Metrorail stations. "I'm very pleased that this has finally taken place. I hope they really catch on and can go into other stations," he said.
"One of the big problems is that people now have to ask to use the restrooms that exist. This unit takes that away. Riders want to be able to get to and use a restroom without asking," Brubaker said.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland, noted, "It's long overdue to have this facility available to Metro riders. This has been a shortcoming of Metro and I give total credit to Dana (Kauffman) and Bob (Brubaker) who have been pushing for this."
THE OPENING OF additional existing restrooms and appropriate signage at stations informing riders of restroom availability will be discussed at the WMATA Board meeting on October 16, according to Kauffman. "There will be signs at the kiosks informing customers of their availability and, hopefully, the majority will be open in keeping with established policy," Kauffman said.
Pat Porzillo, chief engineer, WMATA, clarified that "About four or five existing restrooms will not be able to be opened due to their location in the stations and for security reasons."
The Huntington Station was selected for the one-year experiment because it is a terminal station. Customers are more likely to have arrived after a lengthy Metrobus or Metrorail ride. "This station is expected to generate a high customer use," Stoner said.