Austin’s public toilets solving public urination, bacteria problem

City of Austin's public toilet/restroom in downtown Austin. (KXAN Photo)
City of Austin's public toilet/restroom in downtown Austin. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin city leaders didn’t know if it would work. A free public toilet strategically placed around Austin.

The months-long pilot project which launched last fall would give them better insight into where public restrooms were needed most. Early numbers are in and the city says the 24-hour portable powder room is doing the job.

“The highest user day, [we tracked] over 150 users in that day,” said Downtown Austin Alliance vice president of operations Bill Brice. That peak day was a Saturday in December.

The public loo offers relief in a pinch for Lyft and Uber Driver Rachel Chambers. She said using a ladies’ room at a private restaurant or bar doesn’t work for her line of work.

“They want customer only,” Chambers said. “So, if you do need to use the restroom, if you’re commuting or just checking out downtown, you have to go all the way outside the downtown corridor.”

The Downtown Austin Alliance has maintained the portable public powder room and tracked the number of people using it. So far, more than 11,282 guests have used it between late September and early January. The alliance said that breaks down to about four people every hour.

“Another peak user day: more than 130 users during the second weekend of ACL,” Brice said.

“There’s been a reduction in human waste in the right of way.”

So far, the city has moved the 24-hour, free latrine to several locations trying to determine where it is needed the most. Ambassadors with the alliance are stationed at the latrine, tracking all who enter.

It has been docked at Interstate 35 and Sixth Street, the 500 block of Brazos Street and at the intersection of Sixth Street and Red River. It stays at each location for a month. So, far the busiest spot was near Brazos Street.

The public restroom is open to everyone, including the homeless. The city says another reason why Austin is considering adding more public restrooms is environmental.

“We’ve seen that by tracking that through our ambassador’s work day in and day out on the streets and there’s been a reduction in human waste in the right of ways,” Brice said. “On sidewalks and doors and other places that are not meant for people to use as a restroom.”

The city approved the pilot program in June 2016 and started placing the toilets around town last September. The public restroom cost the city $27,000. The Downtown Austin Alliance said Austin is following the way of other larger city like Miami and Denver, that are also testing the benefits of public bathrooms.

The agency will move the washroom to two more locations; and, the city will decide on a permanent solution by October.

“It’s a need,” Chambers said. “The little things just to be able to potty.”

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