Spaceships, Toilets & Tycoons

overcoming fear of the blank page

I was absolutely stoked to discover that there’s a Toilet Tycoon. Well, not quite. Louis Herrera is a self-proclaimed toilet expert. He is also the president of Public Facilities and Services, a company looking to sell amazing self cleaning, polite, music playing toilet contraptions at amazing prices to less than cluey US city councils.

I have major problems with robotic restrooms. I tried using one once in Newcastle, NSW Australia, and found the experience so horrible I wouldn’t try one again. Automated toilets are unnaturally cavernous rooms in which you feel like you are being watched. I was worried that when I flushed, the room would start its self clean mode while I was still in it. There’s also the problem of locking. I simply don’t trust a “lock” that is merely a button. I want to have some physical control over the locking mechanism of my toilet. And I certainly don’t want my toilet to have the ability to override the lock and open the door after a designated time. The whole thing just isn’t… civilised.

These automated public conveniences are turning up all over the US and are already in place in cities in Europe and Australia. At $US250,000 a pop, they’re not cheap, which I could forgive if in being automatic they made cost efficiencies in yearly upkeep. But they’re still about $US30,000 a year to maintain. Installing a ‘normal’ public toilet would cost about half this to install (and would have more cubicles)

In Portland Oregon, USA, City Hall opened its ground floor toilets at nighttime for the use of homeless people. The trial will cost about $US111,600 for one year, and while people might complain about the inordinate cost considering the number of users (the same amount of money could buy a “coffee and a bagel at Bentos Coffee and Cookies, across from City Hall, for 50 people a day”) I think that this still represents a thoughtful community response. Spaceship toilets are simply unappealing, and they turn the act of relieving oneself into an awkward sanitised experience.

One opponent of the City Hall toilet scheme, Commissioner Randy Leonard, (who opposes it based on its location) has another idea: he’ll be building some of those spaceship toilets for himself. He also found the $US250,000 price tag just a little too coarse to swallow. His plan is to build the toilets at a reduced cost, even getting down to “ten grand a pop”. That’s such a remarkable difference from the price the Herrera mob are quoting that I wonder if its feasible. However, if there’s anything I’ve learned about local government it’s that anything is possible. And Leonard thinks that if they perfect their “ten grand a pop” toilets, they’ll be able to sell them on to other councils. I surely hope so; you’re not quite a tycoon if the local council has more power than you.

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.

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