- Since 2014, San Francisco has operated a program called “Pit Stop” that delivers mobile public restrooms to neighbourhoods with dirty streets.
- In August, the city began offering 24-hour service at three of these stations.
- The cost of operating the stations overnight amounts to $US30 per flush.
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Even toilets are expensive in San Francisco.
Operating three 24-hour public toilets adds $US300,000 to the city’s sanitation budget, according to recent city data reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Since 2014, a San Francisco program called “Pit Stop” has been delivering mobile public restrooms to areas where many of the city’s homeless residents live and congregate. In these locations, especially the Tenderloin neighbourhood, footpaths can wind up scattered with human faeces.
The Pit Stop program started with restroom stations in just three locations, and it has since grown to include 24 stations across 13 neighbourhoods. In addition to giving homeless residents a place to use the restroom, the stations come with used-needle receptacles and dog-waste disposal bins.
But only three locations are open 24 hours. They’re part of a pilot program that began in August and will last until July 2020. The other 21 stations have varying hours: Some are open from 9 a.m to 8 p.m., while others have more limited service.
Most of the additional operating costs for the pilot program goes toward paying staff attendants who help ensure that stalls aren’t misappropriated for drug use or prostitution.
The maths works out like this: Thus far, the 24-hour toilets have been used around 10,500 times during the hours between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when all other Pit Stop stations are closed. About a quarter of all flushes at the 24-hour stations took place at night, which means the overnight toilets cost the city about $US30 per flush.
City officials are now considering expanding the pilot to other locations.
Matt Haney, who represents the city’s sixth district (which includes the Tenderloin and SoMa neighbourhoods) on the Board of Supervisors, has advocated for keeping all of his district’s stations open 24 hours.
Changing every Pit Stop station in the city to stay open overnight would require more than $US8 million, according to the city’s estimate. The city’s annual budget for street cleaning was roughly $US72 million in 2019.
So far, however, the three overnight stations haven’t led to a significant reduction in the number of complaints about San Francisco’s dirty streets. The Chronicle reports that the Tenderloin saw just 12 fewer complaints in the last three months compared to the three months before the pilot started. (Complaints in the neighbourhood dropped from 188 to 176.)
But Haney told the Chronicle that there’s still a need for the toilets in his district – and probably in nearby districts as well. The Tenderloin and SoMa neighbourhoods currently have around 3,700 homeless residents. The total across the city has risen to nearly 10,000.
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