A highly hyped new SF bathroom hailed as “the future of public toilets” lasted only three days into said future, as the high-tech bathroom kiosk quickly had to be relieved of its duty and found itself closed for repairs.
A brand new, sleek, high-tech, free public restroom was unveiled Wednesday with great fanfare and a big to-do press conference at its foot-of-Market-Street location. The Chronicle gave the new loo a glowing writeup calling it "The future of public toilets," with an architect from the toilet kiosk’s design firm SmithGroup saying, “The idea is to make it as indestructible as possible,” and “We spent a lot of (design) time coming up with something to look at that would also be simple and durable from a technical standpoint.”
But about that “durable” part. The new public bathroom broke down Friday afternoon, on just the third day after its ballyhooed opening. As of Saturday morning, technicians were still at work on the out-of-service kiosk.
The trouble appears to have started Friday afternoon around 4:30 p.m. As seen above, it sure looks like the commode got stuck out of place during the unit's self-cleaning cycle. SFist heard the on-duty attendant tell a supervisor that “some lady went in there,” and after she came out, the mechanized commode had not lowered back into the sitting position following the self-cleaning cycle.
The attendant and supervisor did not seem thrilled that we were taking pictures and asking questions.
Repairs were still underway Saturday morning, with technicians on the scene. They simply told us, “it’s not working,” with no timeline for the bathroom’s reopening.
You’ll notice the technicians' vests say JCDecaux, which is the Paris-based "street furniture" and advertising company that operates and maintains these 25 toilet kiosks around town (the ones you’re used to seeing are green and vintage-looking, while this new stainless steel unit is the first of their modernized replacements). JCDecaux also operates 114 additional non-bathroom advertising kiosks around the city, all of which are transitioning to this new stainless steel exterior, with this Ferry Building bathroom kiosk being the first new one introduced.
But JCDecaux did not actually design these kiosks, which are apparently the first of their kind. The aforementioned design firm SmithGroup designed them, and they’re called “AmeniPods.” SmithGroup says in a press release that “The new public toilets will be unique to San Francisco,” and SmithGroup’s Projects page does not list AmeniPods as being in use anywhere other than San Francisco. So they’re pretty brand new, and may not have been largely tested.
That said, SmithGroup is just the design firm, JCDecaux is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of these kiosks, and SF Public Works administers the contract.
"The first new JCDecaux toilet at Embarcadero Plaza opened on Wednesday to the public for real-life testing." Public Works said in a Monday, November 28 statement to SFist. "As expected with a new mechanical system, there will be small technical adjustments during this early usage period. JCDecaux has technicians standing by and has assured Public Works that they will troubleshoot any mechanical problem as quickly as possible."
Public Works adds that "The toilet was offline for about two hours during business hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) over the weekend." That said, SFist visited the toilet on Friday at 4:45 p.m., Saturday morning at 9:15 a.m., and Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m., and the unit was out of operation on all three of those visits.
And sure, it probably won’t be long until this thing is fixed and back up again. This is a nice design and (when working) a great free amenity for the general public. But honestly, Day Three is pretty early for this so-called toilet of the future to already be breaking down and needing serious repairs.
All 25 of these kiosks will eventually take on the same stainless steel exterior (and interior parts seen above) as this just-broken one near the Ferry Building. Media coverage of these new toilets has noted that the city isn’t charged anything for them, as JCDecaux handles maintenance and installation costs in exchange for the advertising space.
But with this new “futuristic” model now in the fritz, we may be getting what we paid for with these free public toilets.
Note: This post was updated on Monday, November 28 with a statement from San Francisco Public Works.
Images: Joe Kukura, SFist