Miami mayor: $500K porta potty program a success

Miami Commissioner Ken Russell steps out of a Pit Stop toilet Friday.
Miami Commissioner Ken Russell steps out of a Pit Stop toilet Friday. Miami Herald

Earlier this year, Miami’s downtown booster agency made unusual national headlines with a tax-funded “poop map.” But if the same map were made today, there would apparently be far fewer smiling poop emojis to report on downtown’s grid.

That’s because Miami’s $500,000 Pit Stop program is a success, according to Mayor Tomás Regalado and officials with the Downtown Development Authority. After just two months on the street, they say reports to the DDA’s cleanup crews about fecal waste have dropped from 100 in May to 43 in November around their two stations.

“They have worked, and they have worked well,” said Regalado.

Regalado joined members of the Downtown Development Authority on Friday afternoon to tout the results of the program, which was born out of a fight with the county’s Homeless Trust over solutions to complaints about feces and urine on the streets of downtown. The DDA, after learning the Trust would not pay for portable toilets for the homeless, produced a map showing human feces found on one Friday afternoon in downtown.

The map didn’t get the Trust on board, but it did push Regalado — self-branded the “potty mayor” — to allocate $500,000 for the program.

“We had a lot of people laughing at us, scoffing at us,” said Jose Goyanes, the business owner who helped create the now-infamous poop map. “Thank God the mayor came through.”

Officially, the program surpassed 2,000 flushes Thursday. And Friday’s event was a news conference to announce the extension of the six-month pilot program to a full year.

What this service provides is dignity

Ken Russell

But, as it turns out, it doesn’t actually cost the $100,000 a month to make four attendant-serviced porta potties available just seven hours a day on Second Street and Southwest First Court. The cost is less than half of what was initially expected, meaning the DDA gets twice the time for its program with the same amount of money pledged by the mayor.

So every day until October, two drivers in pickup trucks will roll into downtown at 2 p.m. and unhitch a trailer mounted with AES Portable Sanitation solar-powered portable toilets that will be picked up and hauled away at 9. They look an awful lot like porta potties, but are more like airplane bathrooms on wheels. They are serviced by a DDA attendee who gives a courtesy knock after 5 minutes signifying that it’s time to evacuate.

Primarily, they’re on the street to serve the homeless. But they’re open to the general public.

On Friday, ahead of the news conference, a newly elected Miami commissioner made his first official role as DDA Chairman — a post to which he was appointed Thursday — a test run of the Pit Stop.

“I’m now also a user and a customer,” he joked, before seriously adding: “What this service provides is dignity.”

But at $500,000 a year, is the city flushing its money down the toilet? The cost and business-time hours have some rolling their eyes. But Regalado says that, for now, the program is better than nothing. He plans to approach the city commission to discuss the construction of new public bathrooms for downtown, where they are currently few and far between.

“We go everywhere to say move to downtown, invest in downtown and we don’t do anything?” he said. “This is something.”