- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. And Metro riders now have a place to answer the call of nature.

The transit system introduced its first readily accessible public toilet at the Huntington station on the Yellow Line yesterday. The self-cleaning facility will be at the Alexandria station for a year as part of a pilot project.

The device, parked inside the fare gates and within sight of the station manager’s booth, was built in New Zealand by Exeloo, whose officials stressed it is clean and safe. The company will be installing a similar toilet in Atlanta’s transit system next week, and has many other units in New Zealand and Australia.

“Every 30 minutes it closes down” for a complete automatic washing, Exeloo President Philip Harman said. Spray jets are located at various points, and there are dryers near the floor. The toilet seat is cleaned automatically after every use.

A flashing green light indicates the toilet is vacant. The door opens and closes at the push of a button, while another button causes the retractable toilet seat to emerge from the wall. Still another button dispenses toilet paper. A sink dispenses water and soap, and there is a hand dryer. All the while, the customer is soothed by piped-in music.

“It flushes for you, so you don’t forget,” Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein noted. But customers should not dawdle. The door opens automatically after 10 minutes, at which point, Mr. Harman says, “You’ve got to go.”

Metro is leasing the toilet for a year for about $109,000. Metro chief engineer Pat Prozillo said they hope it will lead to a 2 percent increase in off-peak ridership at Huntington. The station, in northeastern Fairfax County, was selected because it is a terminal where many passengers arrive at the end of long subway and bus rides.

“There’s a lot of seniors and families with small children who’d like to use the [rail] system but don’t” because of a lack of accessible toilets, Metro board member Dana Kauffman said. “It’s up to our riders to make it work.”

Metro has bathrooms in its stations, but does not advertise the fact. Official policy is that those bathrooms are for employees, but the toilets are available to riders when they ask the station manager, who must escort them.

Mr. Kauffman said the Metro Operations Committee, of which he is chairman, will meet next week to discuss changing the policy to better open the facilities “where security allows us to.”

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