Some creative New Yorkers are offering relief to those enduring the consequences of the city’s lack of public restrooms — by setting up pay-as-you-wish port-a-potties at the pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan.
The "entre-peeneurs" at Uncle John: Portable Restroom & Services were out on Thursday afternoon offering their facilities in exchange for a suggested donation of $1.
A Gothamist reporter heard a worker calling for the $1 donations, which were dropped in a large white bucket on a table beside a bottle of hand sanitizer.
When questioned about the new revenue stream, the worker, who only gave his name as Ronny, promised no one would be turned away if they couldn’t pay.
“If you gotta go, you can go if you want,” he said. “If you don’t got the money on you, next time. I still let them go.”
Tourists hailed the port-a-potties as ideally located and urgently needed. But the city's parks department shut down the port-a-party late Thursday, following a Gothamist inquiry.
“As these port-a-potties were unpermitted, we’ve asked the owner to remove them,” said parks department spokesperson Crystal Howard.
Morty Hoffman, reached at Uncle John’s offices, said the company had been in touch with the city over port-a-potties at other locations, though they were still “trying to work it out on the permits process.”
“There’s demand. People need a bathroom. That’s the bottom line,” Hoffman said, adding that they had started dropping the port-a-potties off in the morning and picking them up in the evening earlier this week. “I believe we’re doing the right thing over here. This is going to be a success.”
Jackie Graham, who was visiting from England with her daughter, called the port-a-potties “brilliant” before closing the plastic door.
“There’s no public toilets here. In England, there’s public toilets in every shop. And you can just go in and use them,” she said.
She and her daughter Kelly had been on the hunt for a bathroom for over an hour. The two lamented having to pay to use most restrooms in private businesses.
“We’ve really struggled,” Kelly Graham said. “They definitely need more toilets.”
The city estimates that 30,000 pedestrians crossed the Brooklyn Bridge each day in 2018. Nevertheless, there are only a handful of public restrooms within several blocks of the Manhattan entrance to the bridge, according to a map of public restrooms compiled by a Rutgers professor.
The low toilet tally is a citywide problem. A 2019 report from the city comptroller ranked New York 93rd of 100 major U.S. cities in terms of access to public restrooms per capita. The issue became even more dire during the pandemic, when many private establishments that had previously let people use their bathrooms stopped doing so. The problem was particularly stark for homeless New Yorkers.
The City Council passed a bill in October requiring the city to map out a list of all functional public restrooms and identify feasible locations for new ones by the end of 2023, though it stopped short of requiring the city to build more.
Relieved visitors said the commode was in pristine condition. Alain Lanz, a Newark resident who walked the bridge with a friend, said the port-a-potty was a welcome sight.
“It’s perfect,” Lanz said in Spanish. “We were looking for a bathroom and we found one. Many people need it.”
Brigid Bergin contributed reporting.