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Clogged by Red Tape, N.Y. Puts Public Toilets on Hold

<i> From Associated Press</i>

The city’s public toilet experiment is going down the drain for at least 18 months, drowned in red tape despite its instant success in persuading New Yorkers to stop using the great outdoors for relief.

More than 40,000 people tested the half-dozen toilets during their four-month trial run, but the sites were shut down at the end of October.

The toilets, provided by the Paris-based JCDecaux company, were then removed from their sites on 34th Street, 125th Street and in City Hall Park. The $1-million test of the 25-cent stalls did not cost the city a penny.

Nearly everyone agrees that the trial was a success. “It kept people from hitting the back streets, you know what I mean?” said Bob Ferrari of the 34th Street Partnership, which cleaned the streets around two of the toilets.

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Homeless people, provided with free tokens, frequented the facilities. The disabled, provided their own facilities, used the toilets in large numbers. More than 2,000 users sent postcards praising the plan. There was no graffiti, no vandalism, no muggings.

So what’s the problem?

The city needed a waiver from the state Legislature (which is idle until January). And it has to take bids from possible contractors. And there’s a lengthy public site selection process. And the city Art Commission must approve the design. And . . . well, you get the idea.

If all systems are go on the pay toilets, they could return in the spring--of 1994, Deputy Mayor Barbara Fife said.

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“The public will have some frustration. People liked it, used it, thought it was a good idea. I’m sure they’re asking, ‘Why are you taking it out? Aren’t you wasting time and money?’ ” said Fife, who nevertheless defended the process.

The end of the trial without a permanent deal came as no surprise to Decaux officials. Just getting the four-month trial took 16 months, said Suzanne Davis, company coordinator for the project.

“We went through 13 agencies. You can’t come into a city, roll up, and just plug it in. It’s a complex process,” said Davis, who is hopeful Decaux will get the city contract when (and if) it gets final approval.

Regardless of the outcome, the Manhattan project was a success for Decaux. The company is using the New York experiment to peddle the pay toilets to other cities.

Representatives from San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., came to the Big Apple to check out the “street furniture,” as Decaux bills its toilets.

“If they weren’t vandalized in New York, they’re not going to be vandalized in Seattle. We’ve show that,” said Davis. “They don’t have to worry.”


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