Portable toilets in the Tenderloin neighborhood on June, 28, 2016.
  • Since 2014, San Francisco has operated a program called "Pit Stop" that delivers mobile public restrooms to neighborhoods with dirty streets.
  • In August, the city began offering 24-hour service at three of these stations.
  • The cost of operating the stations overnight amounts to $30 (R440) per flush.
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Imagine paying R440 to flush your toilet. Well in San Francisco, that's how much it costs to operate one of their public rest rooms part of their operation "Pit Stop" to combat dirty streets.  

Operating three 24-hour public toilets adds $300,000 (R4.3 million) to the city's sanitation budget, according to recent city data reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Since 2014, the "Pit Stop" has been delivering mobile public restrooms to areas where many of the city's homeless residents live and congregate. In these locations, especially the Tenderloin neighborhood, sidewalks can wind up scattered with human feces.

The Pit Stop program started with restroom stations in just 3 locations, and it has since grown to include 24 stations across 13 neighborhoods. In addition to giving homeless residents a place to use the restroom, the stations come with used-needle receptacles and dog-waste disposal bins.

But only 3 locations are open 24 hours. They're part of a pilot program that began in August and will last until July 2020. The other 21 stations have varying hours: Some are open from 9AM to 8PM, while others have more limited service.

Most of the additional operating costs for the pilot program goes toward paying staff attendants who help ensure that stalls aren't misappropriated for drug use or prostitution.

The math works out like this: Thus far, the 24-hour toilets have been used around 10,500 times during the hours between 11PM and 7AM, when all other Pit Stop stations are closed. About a quarter of all flushes at the 24-hour stations took place at night, which means the overnight toilets cost the city about $30 (R440) per flush.

City officials are now considering expanding the pilot to other locations.

Matt Haney, who represents the city's sixth district (which includes the Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods) on the Board of Supervisors, has advocated for keeping all of his district's stations open 24 hours.

Changing every Pit Stop station in the city to stay open overnight would require more than $8 million (R116 million) , according to the city's estimate. The city's annual budget for street cleaning was roughly $72 million (R1 billion)in 2019.

So far, however, the three overnight stations haven't led to a significant reduction in the number of complaints about San Francisco's dirty streets. The Chronicle reports that the Tenderloin saw just 12 fewer complaints in the last 3 months compared to the 3 months before the pilot started. (Complaints in the neighborhood dropped from 188 to 176.)

But Haney told the Chronicle that there's still a need for the toilets in his district - and probably in nearby districts as well. The Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods currently have around 3,700 homeless residents. The total across the city has risen to nearly 10,000.

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