Video: Three flushes for American capitalism!

posted at 5:21 pm on February 5, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Relax — this video is safe for work.  It might not be safe for lunch, though, so be warned.  Reason TV takes a look at the Big Apple’s big public-toilet problem, and casts it into a lesson in how free enterprise solves more problems than the “collective action” Barack Obama hailed in his inaugural speech last month.  When everyone owns a facility in theory, no one’s responsible for it in practice — which is why New Yorkers use someone else’s privy whenever they have the chance:

The greatest city in the world – New York, New York – is home to 8 million souls, a magnet for 52 million tourists a year, and legendary for the grossest public toilets this side of a Turkish prison. That makes sense, since nobody really owns public toilets, leading to the ultimate tragedy of the commons.

There’s a reason the Big Apple shopping blog Racked recently recommended a list of the 16 best in store bathrooms for New Yorkers on the go. Can you imagine a similar list of johns maintained by Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s tidy team? …

So forget Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, and Times Square. What makes New York great are all those private spaces that businessmen leave open for the public to trample, whether that means misusing the books at Barnes and Noble, surfing the internet at the Apple Store, or working all day at a Brooklyn coffee shop while nursing a single $2 cup of joe. …

So let’s give three flushes for American capitalism! If it weren’t for all these great private bathrooms you can just walk in and use, we’d all be carrying around our own toilet paper rolls, hand soap, and wax-paper rim covers.

At least Mayor Bloomberg is all over that transfat problem, and keeping people from endangering their lives with Big Gulps.  He’s too busy meddling in those private choices to actually take care of the public privies in his provenance.  It’s easier to be a big nanny than to clean up your own mess, after all, especially when government has no competition to keep it focused and efficient.


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In my experience, NYC IS a bathroom. I’ve never been to a place that I’d so frequently get a whiff of urine walking around town.

Meric1837 on February 5, 2013 at 5:27 PM

No more then a 16 oz flush..

Electrongod on February 5, 2013 at 5:29 PM

Heh, five star restrooms to charge $4.50, four star restrooms, $3.50, etc.

Call it Bloombama tax fee.

antipc on February 5, 2013 at 5:30 PM

Buc-ees got named Best Bathrooms in America last year, and they are huge and excellent. Plus, you can get hunting clothes and cheap gas there.

juliesa on February 5, 2013 at 5:35 PM

I didn’t see these when I was at the Louvre, but my sister told me there are very nice bathrooms there with entrance fees, and they’re worth it. The free bathrooms are still there too.

juliesa on February 5, 2013 at 5:37 PM

You know what are some really nice public restrooms? The newer Safety Rest stops on some Texas highways. They’re expensive for the state to build, but they’re way better than the old ones.

juliesa on February 5, 2013 at 5:40 PM

I remember several years back.. way back.. Rush talked about a bathroom experiment New York did. They placed a lot of public portable toilets out on the streets. The mayor (can’t remember his name.. before Giuliani I think) anyway… they wanted to see if the public would use them and how well they would care for them. (they were not your typical port-a potties a few steps up)

Well, the experiment was a great success. They were used a lot and people kept them clean. And New York got rid of them.

JellyToast on February 5, 2013 at 5:45 PM

Maybe FaT Mike should be forced to use public restrooms. Maybe that will change his priorities.

GarandFan on February 5, 2013 at 5:48 PM

juliesa on February 5, 2013 at 5:35 PM

The story of Buc-ees is hilarious. Middle easterners took over the convenience store/gas stations in Texas and apparently they don’t do restrooms. One of the brothers that started the chain had a girl with him that refused to use a restroom and asked him to drive down the road to find a cleaner one.

So easy. Took an old and stale model and simply revived it up by featuring clean restrooms. Unbelievable Beaver and his bro get around in a jet now.

DanMan on February 5, 2013 at 5:48 PM

juliesa, the first thought I had when reading this was Bucees. I will stop at a Bucees whenever possible for their restrooms and buy something from them for their trouble.

rihar on February 5, 2013 at 5:50 PM

The real revelation from this video is Reason and their associated outlets. The GOP needs to take a close look at what Reason is doing, because the younger generation is tuned into this message of the free market of ideas.

Tater Salad on February 5, 2013 at 6:03 PM

On the road, I find the big truck stops keep their bathrooms pretty clean.

Fast food places are generally cleaner than gas stations, but it depends – many of them depend upon the shift manager’s diligence.

Adjoran on February 5, 2013 at 6:03 PM

Buc-ee’s is simply awesome, from the clean bathrooms to the incredibly large selection of junk food (personal favorite is the ‘Beaver Nuggets’ – yes, get some, you won’t be disappointed). Great stuff.

Midas on February 5, 2013 at 6:13 PM

I remember several years back.. way back.. Rush talked about a bathroom experiment New York did. They placed a lot of public portable toilets out on the streets. The mayor (can’t remember his name.. before Giuliani I think) anyway… they wanted to see if the public would use them and how well they would care for them. (they were not your typical port-a potties a few steps up)

Well, the experiment was a great success. They were used a lot and people kept them clean. And New York got rid of them.

JellyToast on February 5, 2013 at 5:45 PM

It was a French company that wanted to put self-cleaning portable toilets in the city. They were 25 cents for up to 20 minutes, and opened after that so the homeless or drug users couldn’t camp out.

They were a big success … but then the locusts descended; either the anti-capitalist liberals, who couldn’t abide charging 25 cents for a toilet and having someone make money off of it — they wanted the French company to basically do it for nothing, and fund maintenance of the things out of their own pockets — or you had the other companies with city connections that then demanded competitive bidding for the street latrine contract, even though in some cases they didn’t have any experience in building or maintaining self-cleaning toilets. All they had were connections at City Hall.

The results were predictable. The French company simply washed their hands of the whole thing, and the test potties were left on the street unmaintained for about a year before finally being removed (I had to use the one behind City Hall on Chambers in an emergency just before it was taken out. Fortunately it was for No. 1 and not No. 2, which would have put my life at risk).

jon1979 on February 5, 2013 at 6:27 PM

Adjoran on February 5, 2013 at 6:03 PM

Say, weren’t you banned by Ed?

Bmore on February 5, 2013 at 6:29 PM

You know what are some really nice public restrooms? The newer Safety Rest stops on some Texas highways. They’re expensive for the state to build, but they’re way better than the old ones.

juliesa on February 5, 2013 at 5:40 PM

Texas, like some other southern states, originally built their interstate restrooms back in the 1960s open-air, under the idea that because they were in the south, they didn’t need to include heating and cooling. Not fun this time of year, and if you got a real severe T-storm with high winds, sometimes not dry when you were inside. The new rest areas aren’t as expansive as, say, the rest areas on the New York State Thruway with their restaurants, gas stations and gift shops, but they’re climate controlled and manned 24/7, so it’s a major step up (and at $14 million a pop, the new safety rest areas better be a step up).

jon1979 on February 5, 2013 at 6:33 PM

Most Excellent,

a trip to the Big Apple,

on a Sh*t Hole Safari!!
(snark)

canopfor on February 5, 2013 at 6:39 PM

The cover photo for this post reminds me just a wee bit of CBGB’s bathroom.

Bmore on February 5, 2013 at 6:41 PM

I’m a guy, so bathrooms don’t bother me. When I’m in a tight spot, I just look for the nearest NYPD car. Clean, not crowded, and usually available everywhere.

BobMbx on February 5, 2013 at 6:58 PM

This is one area in which Europe is a bit more free-market oriented. Many places make you pay $0.25 – $0.50 to use their restrooms, and these are one the whole cleaner than other restrooms.

Glenn Jericho on February 5, 2013 at 7:25 PM

good stuff BobMbx

DanMan on February 5, 2013 at 7:39 PM

Glenn Jericho on February 5, 2013 at 7:25 PM

The tragedy of the commons inevitably prevails.

Solution: Entrepreneurs operate rest rooms like they operate the rest of their business.

petefrt on February 5, 2013 at 7:42 PM

If I were to be in desperate straits, and relieved myself outside against a building, I’d be arrested and fined (as I should be). My big-city neighbors’ dogs, not so much.

Most owners pickup the solid waste from their pets, or they’ll get ticketed. But not the urine, natch. My high-rise has hundreds of dogs, and they all relieve themselves outside on the sidewalk or against the building (no other options nearby). So walking down the sidewalk in front of my building, I have to dodge the puddles of dog wee-wee. If it hasn’t rained recently, the outdoors can stink as bad as a NYC subway station.

Yup, I plan on moving. The place has gone to the dogs.

FlatlanderByTheLake on February 5, 2013 at 7:51 PM

I remember several years back.. way back.. Rush talked about a bathroom experiment New York did. They placed a lot of public portable toilets out on the streets. The mayor (can’t remember his name.. before Giuliani I think) anyway… they wanted to see if the public would use them and how well they would care for them. (they were not your typical port-a potties a few steps up)

Well, the experiment was a great success. They were used a lot and people kept them clean. And New York got rid of them.

JellyToast on February 5, 2013 at 5:45 PM

I remember seeing this story on the news. I believe the ADA killed it. The company was willing to provide a certain percentage of wheelchair accessible restrooms but the logistics of the self-cleaning and anti-loitering features made the wheelchair units MUCH more expensive to maintain and easier to vandalize. They were willing to eat the costs to make something like 10% of the units accessible. Wasn’t good enough for the lawyers. They insisted that Americans with Disabilities Act demanded that 100% of the restrooms be accessible, and as a result there are now neither accessible NOR inaccessible ones.

New Yorkers deserve New York.

SoRight on February 5, 2013 at 7:56 PM

The greatest city in the world – New York, New York

Heh.

DarkCurrent on February 5, 2013 at 8:06 PM

New York, New York

…biggest toilet in the country!

KOOLAID2 on February 5, 2013 at 8:25 PM

The Poles charge an entry fee to the bathrooms at Auschwitz. I had to resist urinating on the collector.

Oh, and you can also buy soft ice cream on a cone there.

Shy Guy on February 6, 2013 at 1:10 AM

Say, weren’t you banned by Ed?

Bmore on February 5, 2013 at 6:29 PM

So was liveasaslaveanddie. And Kunte18 is almost certainly a banned troll slinking in under another username. Frankly the mods are so absent it’s embarrassing.

MelonCollie on February 6, 2013 at 10:01 AM