Skip to main content

Space-age bathroom back in service after breaking down

A new public toilet from JCDecaux and SF Public Works landed at the edge of Embarcadero Plaza on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. | Annie Gaus/The Standard

A shiny new toilet in San Francisco’s Embarcadero is open again after malfunctioning over the weekend. 

The new bathroom, which is part of a yearslong upgrade to 25 of the city’s public toilets, went offline for about two hours over the weekend, according to the Department of Public Works. 

“As expected with a new mechanical system, there will be small technical adjustments during this early usage period,” said Beth Rubenstein, a spokesperson for Public Works. 

The toilet has been used approximately 400 times since opening to fanfare on Wednesday, Nov. 23.  

Public Works and JCDecaux, a street furniture brand that contracts with the city, hailed the new commode as part of a “new generation” of self-cleaning public bathrooms at a press conference last Wednesday. 

Days after opening, however, the new toilet malfunctioned and went out of order over the holiday weekend, according to SFist. 

The site reported that the new toilet was out of commission at 4:30 p.m. Friday, and found technicians still making repairs on Saturday morning.  

A Public Works spokesperson said that malfunctions are expected during the “early usage period” and that technicians from JCDecaux, a French manufacturer, are standing by to address any technical issues. The bathroom has a full-time attendant between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. 

The new spaceship–esque toilets replace the old green “Art Nouveau-style” bathrooms that have collectively averaged 710,968 flushes annually over the past five years. 

The new design “has more efficient and effective cleaning systems, as well as better lighting that includes a skylight to bring in daylight from above and a rain-water collection network that supports routine washing,” according to a press release.

The design, manufacturing, installation and daily maintenance of the 25 replacement toilets come at no extra cost to the city due to profits from advertising on the facilities’ exteriors. 

The Embarcadero toilet is the first of its class to open; others will be installed over the course of a few years.

Hiccups aside, tourists and residents alike have given the bathroom positive reviews since it opened last week, said Rubenstein.

David Sjostedt can be reached at