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Self-Cleaning, Automated Toilets of LA

The Exeloo automated public toilet is installed near the tennis courts at North Hollywood Recreation Center. It has two all gender stalls, and the centre door is for maintenance supplies and access. A new version self cleaning toilet was installed in a Los Angeles city park. This two-stall automated restroom is an experiment to lower the cost and increase the cleanliness of the city’s aging stock of public park restrooms. It costs $182,000. Los Angeles officials cut a ribbon of toilet paper at the opening of the new automated public toilet at North Hollywood Recreation Center.

What’s it like to use an automated toilet?

This structure is made by Exeloo, a New Zealand company. It has two unisex stalls behind the wood and stainless-steel exterior. Signs in English, Spanish and Braille give instructions. A wave of the hand near the no-touch entry button and, whoosh, the door opens and you step inside.

The aesthetic is similar to an airplane restroom, with all the stainless steel and white-painted surfaces polished to be as clean and sanitary as possible, but far more spacious.

These restrooms are ADAcompliant, meaning there is plenty of room for a person in a wheelchair and even an attendant to be in there. It can also fit a small family, if a child needs help. There’s a sturdy fold-down diaper changing table.

It has a push-button automated toilet paper dispenser measuring 24 inches of tissue.

What was unexpected was the Voice of God coming from a speaker high above the toilet bowl, telling you had ten minutes to complete your business and then hear music. A piano and strings version of “As Time Goes By” fills the disinfectant-scented cubicle. Talk about pressure.

The 10-minute time limit is meant to keep the units from being commandeered by squatters, drug-users or sex workers. That happened in Seattle a decade ago, causing automated restrooms to be removed.

And if you’re the kind of person who needs some time alone in a restroom, 10 minutes should be enough.

After several minutes of standing still, the Voice of God says, “Warning: internal scanners show this unit to be empty, if occupied, move around to allow detection.”

As for the toilet itself, it flushes when you wave your hand under the no-touch soap dispenser, the water faucet and the hand dryer. Then, you wave your hand at the button to unlock the door, Voice of God thanks you for using Exeloo, and with a whoosh of air, you’re back out in the North Hollywood sunshine.

The toilets self-clean after every 30 uses. They are also regularly checked by the park maintenance workers.

How well are automated toilets serving L.A.?

An early review of the automated toilets criticized their tendency to collect wet tissue on the floor.

By 2015, the toilets were being used about 400 times a day, according to a report to the Metro board. Its inspection found most people were in and out within about two minutes each, and that generally only two to three people were waiting in line at a time for the two-stall unit.

The toilets were reported to work well, although they were expensive to install (more than $400,000) and required about $130,000 maintenance costs per year, including frequent checks by janitors to keep that toilet paper problem at bay.

It’s not entirely clear whether automated toilets are the answer to the needs of hundreds of homeless encampments in the city. Even without the high tech, the city estimates it’s costing about $340,000 a year to provide two portable toilets (one standard and one larger that would be accessible for wheelchairs) a handwashing station staffed by a trained attendant 12 hours a day. That pencils out to more than $57 million for the city’s existing homeless encampments.

The billboard company Outfront JC Decaux installed automated toilets around the city under a 2001 agreement that originally called for 150 toilets.

That number turned out to be overly optimistic, and the company has installed only 14. There were 15, but one was taken out to make room for a construction project and is in storage.

They are part of a larger advertising deal that gives JC Decaux the exclusive right to place ads on bus shelters, kiosks and walls of automated toilets located on city rights-of-way. The company pays a fee and a portion of the ad revenue to the city.

In return, the city doesn’t pay for the cost of the toilets except for any installation costs (water, sewer, power, wi-fi) that rise above about $30,000 each.

The city’s agreement with JC Decaux is set to expire in 2021, after having earned the city about $84 million dollars. It sounds like a lot of money, but the advertising deal including the toilets was supposed to bring in about twice as much.

The contract also requires some of the toilets to have people employed to monitor the toilets. While the toilets are supposedly scrubbing themselves, there are still workers present to monitor the users at six of the city’s 15 automated toilets. Why not build lower-tech permanent toilets and just have people there to clean them and keep an eye on the users?


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