NYC's New High-Tech Public Bathroom Is Freaky, Robotic

For years, New York City was a grim place to be when you had to use the bathroom, since there are almost no public facilities (not counting Starbucks). But earlier this month the first of 20 high-tech pay toilets opened in the city, in Madison Square Park just north of 23rd Street. Now the next time you visit the city and need to answer nature’s call, grab a quarter and head over there to experience the strange combination of a $100,000 prison cell/car wash/elevator/Louvre. It’s the cheapest “experience” you’ll probably find in the city.

When the $.25 is inserted, the doors close verrry slowly to give plenty of time to everyone:

What follows is possibly the longest and most awkward 20 to 30 seconds of a person’s day. The door slips open like an elevator, but then it stays open, to accommodate those who need extra time getting in. Meanwhile, men and women in suits walk past. It is very difficult to look inconspicuous in a bathroom on a sidewalk in New York with the door open. There is just nothing to do but stand there. And the delay will not please those who are in distress.

Once inside, you can’t hear the city because of the heavily dampened walls. There’s a pyramid-shaped skylight to let natural light in—that’s the Louvre part, which we guess means you can pretend to be a giant taking a poo in the shopping mall underneath a Paris musem. There’s a black button that dispenses up to three 16-inch strips of toilet paper, a couple of distress call buttons, and the soap squirts out pre-mixed into the water for more efficient hand-washing.

When you leave, a weight-sensor built into the floor confirms that nobody is inside, then the entire room is washed and sanitized by a robotic arm.

“Greetings, Earthlings. Your New Restroom Is Ready.” [New York Times]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. anneofandover says:

    The best place to go to the bathroom in any city is a hotel lobby. I mean a hotel lobby bathroom. They are clean and if you pick a nice hotel, you often have the privacy of a fully enclosed toilet, not just a stall. Take it from experience, skip the .25 cent sidewalk closet, head to the Four Seasons.

  2. headon says:

    Cool, I’m gonna eat Taco Bell and then really test it out.

  3. ptkdude says:

    This reminds me somewhat of the restrooms they have at the Five Points subway station in Atlanta, except those are free. You see a green light, push the button, yank the door open, then lock it behind you. The bathroom plays soothing music to help things come out ok. After you leave, the entire bathroom is cleaned before the next person can use it.

  4. MBZ321 says:

    Seems like it could work, but I don’t see the reason it has to be sanitized after each use. Seems like a waste of water/chemicals, especially when toilet seat covers are provided. It would be more efficient if it did it every “3” people or some number around there. And what happens if there’s “assistance” needed? Does the door still stay open until someone comes?

    The door setup seems weird too. Why does it stay open for 30 seconds? Even the doors at the grocery store can sense if someone is there or not!

    Other than that, it’s a very good idea. But of course, bums won’t use ‘em, and more than one person can technically go in at the same time.

  5. legotech says:

    @MBZ321: Its cleaned everytime in case theres jerks who think its funny to pee/poop on the floor, walls, in the sink. They’ve had them in Paris for a while…the whole thing is showered off inside and then dried and ready for the next person (my parents and I all used it right after each other)

  6. TechnoDestructo says:

    It would do more good if it incinerated anyone who thinks it’s funny to pee/poop on the floor, walls, in the sink.

  7. jackhandey says:

    @headon: “Cool, I’m gonna eat Taco Bell and then really test it out”

    Good luck! …. I doubt the “three 16-inch strips of toilet paper” will even come close to handling a meal from Taco Bell! :)

  8. alhypo says:

    Sounds great, except for the slow doors and limited TP supply.

    I used to work in a beverage plant, and we had tanks that would essentially spray themselves clean from the inside. I thought, why not do the same with a bathroom? But, of course, like all good ideas, I let someone else invent it first.

  9. crescentia says:

    They had these when I went to London in 1990 so I think we are behind the curve a bit.

  10. rg says:

    These have been in SF for quite a few years too! And I’ve seen first hand that you can fit two guys and a bike in there at the same time, don’t ax me what they were doing with the bike!

  11. Joafu says:

    @jackhandey: Bring a roll of quarters with you.

  12. Cary says:

    Sounds like another craptacular on Broadway

  13. WakefulD says:

    Simultaneously amazing and terrifying. Damn you, you dirty apes! It was earth all along!!

  14. chiieddy says:

    Boston has had these in strategic locations for several years now. When they work.

  15. SexCpotatoes says:

    These aren’t just bathrooms, they’re also reasonably priced accommodation for that any hours quickie!

  16. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    @jackhandey: A major reason I never travel without a package of my children’s diaper wipes with me.

  17. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    @SexCpotatoes: Psh, and everyone wonders why I drive an SUV with tinted windows…

  18. darkclawsofchaos says:

    @CHRIS WALTERS: Possibly the decent cheapest service, but you could go even cheaper doing it the French way, on the side of a building, mind you it does leave you vunerable and only really works with men who only needs to urinate, anything else is trouble, but if you wanted cheap, thats the cheapest.

  19. nardo218 says:

    In Venice, you opened and shut the door yourself, but there was a ticking clock and the DOOR WOULD SWING OPEN if you were in there too long.

  20. BlinkyGuy says:

    When I lived in SF on a corner of the Tenderloin, there were 3 of these within a block of my front door.

    They worked fine during the day but at night they were taken over by drug dealers who intimidated people into not using them so they would be available for their clients to smoke/shoot their product.

    The city also provided free tokens (available at nearby grocery/liquor stores) that would open the door and be returned for reuse so that the indigent could use the toilets. The homeless would sell the tokens to tourists from time to time.

  21. youbastid says:

    Hmm, it’ll be a fun press day when someone accidentally leaves their baby in a carrier on the sink, where it isn’t noticed by the in-floor “weight sensors.”

  22. bluewyvern says:

    Three squares of paper? Fifteen-minute time limit? I can understand them not wanting people to move in, but what if you need more? There should be a coin slot by the toilet so you can buy more time and paper, like a pay phone or something…

    Also, if the soap is mixed with the water, how do you rinse?

  23. Szin says:

    @anneofandover: Damn straight. Whenever I’m around Times Square and I have to go, I always head to the Marriott Marquis hotel. Hotel bathrooms, for the most part, are always clean. Although I will probably waste a quarter just to try one of these out, I’d never pay to go to the bathroom in my city!

  24. Bos'un's Mate says:

    The commodes are remarkably commodious. Gothamist featured a spoof video of a guy who moved in: Rrent works out to only $720 a month, and it includes a cleaning service!
    [gothamist.com]

  25. Angryrider says:

    D’oh! I just remembered that episode of Spin City where the main character had to wear a fat suit in order to feel the plight of the fat man and the public restrooms. Where’s the lawsuit?

  26. loganmo says:

    They used to have on of these at the Huntington Metro station on the DC subway system. It was free, but it was also alas revolting inside.

    I second the comments about the hotel lobby when my mission requires that I take a seat.

  27. AbsoluteIrrelevance says:

    If you don’t have a quarter or don’t feel like donating it, go to Macy’s. Floor 2 and 6 for women’s restrooms, floor 7 for men’s restrooms. I have this memorized because it always comes in handy.

  28. mrmysterious says:

    Jesus, the ROI on these things at 100k a pop has to be years and years.

  29. a says:

    Anyone else picturing the Suicide Telephone Booths from Futurama in New New York?

  30. Jean Naimard says:

    What they also need are “quick painless death” and “slow, excruciating painful death buttons”.

  31. no.no.notorious says:

    25 cents to use a bathroom??!? SHOOT

    toilet…FROM THE YEAR 3000

  32. iqag says:

    In the ’80s the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation published a booklet called “Dear John” reviewing the available facilities (public and private but open to the public) around Manhattan. I’m surprised there are not more websites dedicated to this vital information (certainly more universally needed than available parking, restaurant reviews, etc.)

  33. ElizabethD says:

    I LOVE this. All cities should have public restrooms in every major shopping/office sector. It’s ridiculous what you have to do in the U.S. to find a place to pee these days.

    A legislator in our state has introduced a bill to allow ppl with diagnosed (confirmed by doc) IBS and other intestinal disorders to carry a card that requires all stores, cafes, etc. to let these ppl use their private restrooms immediately if no public ones are available.

    So…. does anyone ever get to see the robot at work?

  34. Aphex242 says:

    @Landor: That’s HILARIOUS lol

  35. Exek says:

    Boston had this for quite some time I believe

  36. quail says:

    I’m surprised it finally happened. In the early 90’s they installed at least one or two ‘test’ toilets. The NY papers were all abuzz with the fact that public restrooms would finally be available in the city like they were in Europe. And then nothing happened. As it turned out it was city departments fighting over the money and control of the toilets that did them in.

  37. sickofthis says:

    The NY toilets sound great, but I don’t think I’d want to use one in Japan:

    [www.youtube.com]

  38. Meira says:

    I found a video of a guy who sat on the sink & video taped it as it was cleaning — I’m impressed!
    Self-cleanign bathroom on YouTube

  39. GilloD says:

    Over the summer, they had refurbed public restrooms open in Bryant Park. Pretty spiffy, too. Not sure if this is still the case. But Central Park has free commodes as well. Alas, the stall doors and partitions are all of 6 hilarious inches high.

    At least you don’t have to pay by whether or not you intend to poop THANKS FOR NOTHING CZECH REPUBLIC.

  40. tomcatv1 says:

    If the City/State of New York would make it legal again for restaurants and hotels to charge for toilet usage the City wouldn’t have to install public toilets at $100,000 per. That’s $100,000 in tax payer dollars.

  41. CaptainSemantics says:

    @mrmysterious: I think you’re forgetting the magical force of advertising. Captive audience = ad revenue. If maintenance costs are low, then you could be in the black in a year or two.

  42. CaptainSemantics says:

    @ptkdude: I walked past those nearly everyday for a good year. Never was I adventurous enough to try them. Granted, I worked about a two-minute walk from them, that could be part of the reasoning. I wonder how much they cost MARTA to install, because there are, what, eight or ten of them?

  43. Hyre says:

    There’s a very simple solution to the problem of the door, which is to have a button near the actual toilet that shuts the door faster or even allows for manual override.

  44. theblackdog says:

    @anneofandover: Doesn’t work in some hotels in DC, I was at a parade staging area and the closest place was a hotel, but security wouldn’t let you near the lobby bathrooms unless you were a “customer” so you had to show them a room key or receipt from the bar.

    Considering that it was the gay pride parade, the people outside were probably scaring them to death :-)

  45. bluesunburn says:

    They have similar pay robo-toilets in Boston. They’re fun, and surprisingly clean.

  46. LVP says:

    Put these in St. Petersburg Russia and there will be women sitting by the door selling your toilet paper.

  47. RGISMYFAVORITECANADIANMORMON says:

    @ptkdude:
    I go through Five Points every day and never knew about these… so, now I do.

  48. XTC46 says:

    cant wait for the door to fail when a person is inside. “man gets caught in toilet for 7 hours!”

  49. brundlefly76 says:

    Coincidentally Seattle just announced it is removing their APT’s (Automated Public Toilets), as they have been expensive, abused, and malfunctioning:

    [www.stationstops.com]