While those space age automated public toilets—or A.P.T.s, as they're known in the business—have been getting all the attention lately, one atavistic bathroom experience is still quietly savored by the public at Herald and Greeley Squares. It involves actual human attendants, who clean and inspect the restrooms 15 to 25 times a day. Their continued employment is sort of a John Henry victory over the rise of the machines that will soon be operating every train, controlling every taxi, and flushing every toilet.
Back in 2001, some French automated self-cleaning pay toilets debuted at Herald and Greeley Squares, a precursor to the new A.P.T.s popping up in Madison Square Park and elsewhere. The new self-cleaning toilets are made by Cemusa, the Spanish company that won a contract in 2005 to install 20 of them citywide, as well as other street furniture. The French predecessors, which cost 25 cents to use, had grown less popular as time passed; usage dropped from 28,000 visits the first year to fewer than half that in 2007. They also cost the 34th Street Partnership $100,000 a year in supplies and repairs. "It wasn’t a bad experience," Partnership president Daniel Biederman tells City Room. “It just wasn’t a great experience, and we wanted it to be great."
So now visitors to the restrooms can, according to Biederman, expect "a quality deluxe manual restroom experience." The new manual-cleaning toilets require human attendants making as much as $12.70 an hour, with a starting pay rate at $8.50. But don't think that just because the toilets don't clean themselves, there's no high tech wizardry; these babies have the Dyson Airblade hand dryers, sensors tell the toilets when to replace the plastic covering on the toilet seat, and LED counters tell the attendant how many are left. Andy Newman at the Times recently gave it a whirl, and if his deluxe experience is to be believed, the famous Bryant Park bathroom had better watch its back.