Toronto’s first self-cleaning pay toilet, at the corner of Queens Quay and Rees Street, opened for business yesterday afternoon. Mayor Miller was there, and so were reporters from almost every big media outlet that covers Toronto. Also, us.
Robotic washrooms are hilarious, and these particular ones happen to be integral to Toronto’s twenty-year contract with Astral Media, the advertising company that is providing and maintaining the washrooms for the City, and is also installing other types of new street furniture, in exchange for the right to sell advertising on some of it. For these reasons, the opening of the first automated washroom in Toronto was most definitely newsworthy. But even considering that, the press turnout was just huge. There were so many outlets present that they can’t all be named individually.
“I’m pleased to see that the satellites and cable trucks are appropriately arranged,” said Mayor Miller, before beginning his address to the crowd. He spent part of his time at the podium excoriating the province over Transit City. It was the most damning indictment of provincial indifference to Toronto’s transit problems ever delivered from in front of a gleaming metal outhouse.
For what it is, the washroom is magnificent. Luc Sabbatini, president of Astral Media Outdoor, was on hand to give some opening remarks, and later to help Mayor Miller cut the ceremonial ribbon (at which point the door to the washroom slid open, as if by magic). “The APT, as we like to call it,” said Sabbatini, using the preferred abbreviation for Automated Public Toilet, took Astral two years to source and develop. Each unit costs Astral $400,000, meaning, at the going rate of twenty-five cents per use, it will take 1.6 million paid pit-stops for the company to break even. And that’s only on this, the first unit. Astral is obligated to install nineteen more before the end of their contract, and will do so at a rate of two per year (except for this year, during which they expect to install three more).
The view from inside the washroom door.
According to Kyp Perikleous, also present, who oversees the coordinated street furniture program for the city, the fee is intended only to deter misuse, and not to recoup costs for Astral.
The washroom’s many features were on display for the assembled media. The interior is sleek and rugged, with a three-in-one soap dispenser, sink, and hand dryer; and stainless steel fixtures. There’s a panic button inside, with an intercom, for emergencies. The twenty-five cent entrance fee buys “visitors” twenty minutes of alone time. After fifteen minutes, the washroom begins to emit the first of a series of increasingly urgent warnings. At twenty minutes, the door flings open automatically. Sensors detect when the user leaves, and set the self-cleaning cycle in motion.
The City has been touting its plan to distribute free-washroom-use tokens to Toronto’s homeless, via Streets to Homes. Former Torontoist contributor and public space advocate Jonathan Goldsbie, who was there to whisper in ears, reminded us that many homeless people don’t carry wallets, and that perhaps plying them with more loose change isn’t the ideal outreach policy. Even with these twenty new automated facilities, Toronto’s public washrooms will still be few and far between.
The first member of the public ever to use an automated public washroom in the City of Toronto was a man named Howard Begley, who was about fifty years old, and was in a wheelchair. He made his way to the entrance with a quarter in hand and asked City staff to start the cleaning cycle, so that he could go inside. After successfully christening the APT, he was surrounded by a thick media scrum. Competition for comment afterward was so intense that we don’t actually know what phase of matter was the first to travel those tubes.
Photos, taken later in the day on Wednesday, by Joel Charlebois/Torontoist.