Toilets on wheels help keep San Francisco clean
Toilets on wheels help keep San Francisco clean Clean City attendant Erica Corona, left, watches as Sabrina Hollier walks up a step to use a public toilet at the Tenderloin Pit Stop in San Francisco (AP photos)
Toilets on wheels help keep San Francisco clean
Lexile: 1400L

Assign to Google Classroom

Streets in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood blocks away from fancy stores and long lines of tourists waiting for cable cars have been cleaner since solar-powered toilets began rolling in four afternoons per week.

The mobile bathrooms on wheels are guarded by attendants and have been so successful that city officials say Portland, Oregon, Honolulu and New York have inquired about them in seeking solutions for similar sanitation problems.

Supporters of the portable pit stops say having public bathrooms accessible has made the neighborhood known for crime, homelessness and poverty more livable.

"Everyone has to go to the bathroom, that's not something anyone can stop," said Jane Kim, a San Francisco supervisor whose district includes the Tenderloin neighborhood. "This program affords people some dignity to take care of a human need."

Two portable toilets with sinks mounted on a trailer are hauled in by pickup trucks each Tuesday through Friday to three spots near soup kitchens and park areas that attract large clusters of people. They are dropped off at 2 p.m. and taken out at 9 p.m. to be cleaned.

Attendants working for a nonprofit contracted by the city make sure the portable toilets stay sanitary and keep them stocked with toilet paper, air freshener, soap, paper towels and seat covers. They also give users a courtesy knock after five minutes.

Kaven Harris, 54, said before the toilets were brought in he was forced to go to the bathroom in parking lots, hiding between cars.

"If this pit stop weren't here, I would be in a parking lot," said Harris, an Army veteran who has been living on the streets about six months. "There is no place to use the bathroom if you're homeless and don't have money."

The pilot program was inspired by a group of students at De Marillac Academy, a private Catholic school in the neighborhood. They read poems to city officials about their struggles growing up in the Tenderloin neighborhood where many said they had to pay close attention to the ground to avoid stepping on human feces.

"You had to be cautious and you had to be looking at the floor to make sure you didn't step on poop," student Karina Bonilla, 14, said. "But not anymore!"

The success of the pilot program is largely due to the employees who make sure the bathrooms are not misused as has happened with other public bathrooms, said Mohammed Nuru, director of the city's public works department.

"We have seen huge success with staffing these facilities and making them decent for people," Nuru said.

Since the program started in July, requests for cleaning feces and urine off of sidewalks also have dropped by a third from an average of 27 calls per weekday to about 15, Nuru said.

There are plans to set up mobile bathrooms, which cost the city about $100,000 per year per station, in other neighborhoods but officials have to allocate funds first. There are also plans to assign attendants to the 25 automated public bathrooms first installed 20 years ago throughout the city that are so dirty they are rarely used for their original purpose, Nuru said.

"The streets have been cleaner and smells aren't so bad," said Britney Pirring, a 13-year-old student at De Marillac Academy. "Now my brother and I can take our time on the streets walking to school."

Critical thinking challenge: How do the attendants contribute to the success of this initiative?

Source URL:

Assigned 19 times

  • raymondp-Koc
    4/19/2015 - 11:58 p.m.

    the idea of having a toilet thats portable is a brilliant idea. i think for women it will help them out because they know the toilet will be clean due to high maintenance.

  • mattf-Koc
    4/20/2015 - 02:32 a.m.

    Toilets on wheels? Now that might be the greatest invention I have ever seen. Finally peace will be brought to the world and our bladders will no longer have a reason to hurt.

  • Vincent393
    4/20/2015 - 10:56 a.m.

    It sounds like a good idea there is a proven need. I just cant believe that they have to tow these portable bathrooms then clean them daily. Also i do believe it will attract more tourists because of the cleanliness. the only issue now is the placement of them and where to get the money to keep them up.

  • hailie1237
    4/20/2015 - 12:43 p.m.

    This is a wonderful invention. It gives people who are not as privileged as us a chance to have something good. Some people say that before theses toilets came they were forced to go in parking lots. The residents say that the streets look and smell cleaner then before. The program was inspired by a group of students at De Marillac Academy. This project cost the city approximately 100,000 dollars per year, per station.

  • Joni-Pav
    4/21/2015 - 09:58 a.m.

    I find it very interesting that a man would go to the bathroom in a parking hiding between cars. I think this is a great idea because people can get stuck in the middle of streets not finding a bathroom and then it will be there and u do find it.

  • Josephl-Pav
    4/21/2015 - 10:02 a.m.

    This is a great idea. They should add a concession stand or add more bathrooms to minimize lines and make some money that they can use to keep up with the maintenance

  • GabyGGrey
    4/21/2015 - 12:55 p.m.

    I think this is a great idea because there's a lot of homeless people out there that don't have anywhere to go do their business, but with these mobile public bathrooms everyone can have a few minutes of private time basically wherever they go.

  • chris.nunes15
    4/21/2015 - 12:55 p.m.

    I think this is a great idea, but there are a few flaws with it. First, who is going to be paying for the toilets on wheels? Will all of the citizens in the town have to pay for them with taxes? Some people might think it's worth not having feces and urine all over the street, but others might want to save money on their taxes and think of different alternatives . After researching I found that public bathrooms are the most vandalized public areas. This could create higher costs. Although i think its a good idea, it seems like more research should be done to make the cost effective.

  • Haley Patterson
    4/22/2015 - 01:51 p.m.

    I think that this is a good idea because those rides might be really long and it is not good for people to hold themselves. We should have had bathrooms on these types of things in the first place.

  • MadisonSch
    4/22/2015 - 01:55 p.m.

    The addition of the public movable bathroom sounds to be a very nice idea. It allows the homeless some privacy while going to the bathroom and with the bathroom attendants is really helps the bathrooms to stay clean

Take the Quiz Leave a comment