Business owners hope downtown public restrooms are there to stay

A portable public restroom has been bouncing around the downtown area for three months as part of a pilot program to clean up the area. (CBS Austin)

A portable public restroom has been bouncing around the downtown area for three months as part of a pilot program to clean up the area.

The unit is currently in its third of five different test locations downtown stationed at Sixth Street and Red River.

The Downtown Austin Alliance is overseeing the program in conjunction with public health and public works.

DAA Vice President of Operations Bill Brice says so far it’s been a success. “From September 28, the day the pilot began through January 2nd we had over 11,280 users so that averages out to about 120 per day and 4.4 per hour so it’s been highly successful,” Brice said.

The restroom is free and open to the public. It’s monitored by a Downtown Austin Alliance Ambassador from 6 a.m. to midnight. It’s been parked at 6th Street and Red River for 3 weeks and gets used 120 times a day,

There are still two other locations the Downtown Austin Alliance wants to move the unit to measure usage, but one business owner hopes it stays right where it’s at.

“I hope they do. I really do because we need one. Not just for the homeless, for everyone. For the public,” Sims said.

Sims is the owner of Bar-B-Que Heaven and has been at the 6th Street and Red River location for eight years.

But he said being one block away from the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless has its challenges. “We had a lot of problems with people going behind the trailers to use the restroom because they didn't have anywhere else to go,” Sims said.

He said the new public restrooms haven't completely solved the problem, but it helped.

Brice and the Downtown Austin Alliance are collecting the data for the pilot program with the hopes of finding a permanent location. He said the data shows the restroom is being used by far more than just the homeless. “In particular at bar closing hours when you have thousands of people exiting downtown,” Brice said.

Sims has a front row seat to the mass exodus of Sixth Street at closing time and agrees it's another reason why the restroom is needed. “Oh my God yes! They come out of them bars, they leave the bar and don't have anywhere to go after drinking. They'll actually be a line over there at night time 2:00 in the morning,” Sims said.

The pilot program is set to wrap up in February or March. Sims hopes Austin City Council will make room in the budget for a permanent restroom.

The design they're looking at will cost between $90,000 and $100,000 plus installation.

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