Five portable, free public bathrooms coming to DC

WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Free public bathrooms will soon be coming to DC

Staffers with Councilmember Brianne Nadeau’s office told DC News Now the DC Department of Public Works has signed a contract with Throne Labs to bring five portable bathrooms to the District.

Throne Labs is a Brentwood, Md.-based company that was founded in 2020.

“We actually chose to come to DC when we first had this idea, partly because of how the council so inclusively was talking about the need for bathrooms, you know, specifically that it’s not just an unhoused issue, but also affects pregnant women, tourists , parents with small children and people with medical needs and others,” said Jessica Heinzelman, COO and co-founder of Throne Labs.

The pilot program will bring five bathrooms to Columbia Heights Plaza, Oxon Run Park, Dupont Circle, 8th and H St. NE and somewhere downtown.

Throne bathrooms are standalone units that can be moved and require no water, sewer or electric hookups.

You can access the bathrooms by scanning a QR code, texting a number or using the Throne app.

“We actually use the connection with the phone to ask for a cleanliness rating after each use. And we use that to schedule cleans using historical data, but also be able to respond very quickly if there is a throne that needs special attention immediately and we can actually remotely shut down a throne if there’s a biohazard or any other problem with it,” Heinzelman said.

Throne Labs also works with public and non-profit partners to provide tap cards to unhoused and other marginalized populations.

“People are experiencing homelessness who don’t have access to public restrooms actually end up using the street, the alley, wherever they can find,” said Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. “And so this space will be welcoming and accommodating to anyone who needs it.”

Heinzelman said using phones or cards to access the bathrooms promotes accountability.

“We attach each use to a user ID, and if that user is consistently leaving the throne in a state that others are complaining about after they come in or, you know, not using it in ways that are against the rules, we’re able to send them warnings as well as restrict their access,” Heinzelman said.

Thrones are already in use in Hyattsville and Mount Rainier in Maryland and the City of Fairfax in Virginia.

“We have designed and built this in the DMV. So I think it’d be fun to hear from people that may have used an early prototype thrown at the 2021 holiday market or may have used a throne at Yards Park over the last 11 months,” Heinzelman said.

The Capitol Riverfront BID funded two Throne bathrooms in Yards Park over the summer. One was taken away during the winter because of declining park use.

From March 22, 2023, to Feb. 29, 2024, the Yards Park bathroom had 22,064 uses with 4,244 unique users.

“People build it into their jogs or their daily commutes or their habits,” Heinzelman said.

Heinzelman expects the fifth new Thrones to be just as successful.

The $400,000 project was funded last summer in the FY2024 budget. The bathrooms will be operational through the end of the fiscal year in September.

“I’m hopeful that this pilot will be very popular and that I can continue funding it and that ultimately it will be widely adopted as one of our government policies,” Nadeau said.

Throne Labs is hopeful to install the first bathroom next week.

The bathrooms will be open from 7 am to 10 pm