No relief from bureaucracy
I want to know which mayoral candidate will deliver public toilets. Is that too much to ask? San Francisco has them. So does Boston. Seattle and Los Angeles will get them soon. More than 500 European cities have them. They're secure, cheap, attractive and, most of all, clean. They answer urgent needs.
For 10 years, through the administrations of David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani, we were at the door, so to speak.
In late 1992, following a demonstration project paid for by private foundations and Decaux, a French company in the toilet business, the Dinkins administration decided to ask for competitive bids on 100 public pay toilets. There was trouble from the start.
The federal government weighed in with notice that provisions had to be made for the disabled. Decaux said it could not make units large enough for wheelchairs that would be secure and self-cleaning. There would have to be two types of units-one for the disabled that would require special access provisions and a maintenance staff, and one for everyone else. Advocates for the disabled argued for a single unit that could accommodate everyone.
In 1993, Decaux bowed to the inevitable and introduced a universal toilet model.
Luckily, the state Legislature passed a law permitting pay toilets. In a weird notion of problem solving, it had outlawed them 15 years before that, because women had to pay and men often did not.
Community boards started to kick up dust as well. The business deal gave free toilets to the city, and the right to sell ads on the toilets and on separate kiosks to the vendor. Many neighborhoods were chary of the kiosks.
In October 1993, Decaux and another large outfit opted out of the running on the grounds that the city's limit of two ad kiosks per toilet wouldn't yield enough revenue.
Exit Dinkins, enter Giuliani. Time passed. San Francisco got public toilets.
In December 1996, the City Council approved a proposal, hammered out with top Giuliani officials, to have a single contractor build, maintain and operate up to 100 public toilets, 430 newsstands and 3,500 bus shelters in return for advertising rights. These amenities were now called ``street furniture,'' and many rejoiced that good public design would soon replace hodge-podge. The Giuliani administration issued a request for proposals.
In June 1998, the RFP was canceled. It was too big for one vendor, Giuliani officials asserted, leaving people to wonder why it had been issued in the first place. The administration promised to restructure the proposal but didn't.
In June 2000, a frustrated Council Speaker Peter Vallone negotiated a deal with the mayor for up to 100 toilets. The Giuliani administration did nothing to move the project forward.
July 2001. Los Angeles approved a contract for 150 public pay toilets, paid for with advertising. Boston's first pay toilet opened for business, part of a deal under which the city gets free toilets, bus shelters, information kiosks and newsstands in return for forfeiting potential ad revenue. New Yorkers and our visitors still urgently prowl for clean, safe bathrooms.