Got a quarter? Urine luck.

When I first started traveling, I was shocked that I would often be expected to pay money to use public bathrooms. In train and subway stations especially, women often parked themselves at the entrance to bathrooms, and asked for some small change, in exchange for keeping the bathrooms clean. At first, I was appalled by this practice– why should I have to pay for something I can’t control? I soon realized the wisdom of these pay toilets. Almost without exception, the bathrooms were cleaner and more sanitary than any others.

The concept– albeit without the cleaning women– is already in practice in some European cities, and it spread to New York yesterday, as the city’s first “pay toilet” opened in Madison Square Park. The New York Times blog has the story:

“Officials said the 20 new toilets to be installed will be the first permanent ones in use in the city. The kiosk in Madison Square Park, made of tempered glass and stainless steel, is about the size of a newsstand, with an automatic sliding door that opens when a deposit of 25 cents is made.”

The toilets are not without their drawbacks, however. The Times article also notes that the toilets use no less than 14 gallons of water per flush, so they are far from environmentally friendly.