TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Colors may be a key to deterring drug use. It's one of the factors behind a new bathroom at the Roy Laos Transit Center on the south side of Tucson.
Erik Duran is one bus rider who has noticed the difference, as he sat on a bench and talked about past problems inside the old restrooms at his frequented bus stop.
"I'm here every day. I've even found where it doesn't open because people are sleeping in there. There is random stuff you see that shouldn't even be in there. I don't touch it," he said, throwing his hands up in disgust.
It's why the Tucson man is praising the newest addition: A Sidewalk Restroom.
Sun Tran reportedly purchased the structure from ROMTEC, Inc. for about $120,000, including installation. They installed them about six months ago.
A specially designed color coding system is a unique feature. LED lights inside the restroom, featuring a single toilet, will change to green when its vacant, and blue when it's occupied.
"It's designed to encourage proper use of the facility, and to discourage misuse," said Pat Richter, Director of Marketing and Communications for Sun Tran.
Misuse, according to Richter, includes transients and other individuals holding up those who need the bathroom, by using the sink as a shower.
Sinks on the outside of the structure are one of the design features on the sidewalk restroom, encouraging people to get in and out of the restroom, and not loiter.
"The Sidewalk Restroom employs innovative design concepts that have been successful in European countries for many years. This includes actually reducing privacy to encourage speedy use and discourage misuse of the facility," according to the ROMTEC website.
The double sidewalk restroom is accessible and unlocked for private use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"Sun Tran was looking for a system that would be accessible around the clock, every day of the year," Richter said. "The lights show other transit users when the bathroom is unoccupied. And if someone is in for, say an hour or so, then law enforcement or security can knock on the door to make sure everything is okay."
As for the blue LED light, there was some discussion about it on Facebook, and whether it could actually deter drug use when the restroom is occupied.
Their staff said it was a concept introduced in various Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) techniques.
"The blue LED lights don't allow good contrast on your veins," Portland Loo Sales Manager Evan Madden told Tucson News Now. "It doesn't solve the problem but it doesn't make it easy."
The public curiosity of the blue lighting had Richter laughing at the interest.
"I talked to someone that works in our facilities program and they said, 'oh, well that's one of the things that was listed, but that wasn't what we were interested in.' We were interested in the fact that you could see if it was occupied. Or if someone is spending the night in there, the police could notice the blue light's been on for two hours. They could knock on the door and make sure that everything's okay. We were interested in that. The whole issue about the blue light, I think is just funny," he said.
Some Sun Tran riders, like Julieta Larriba, didn't even notice the color change. But she certainly noticed some cleaner factors.
"They don't smell as bad. There's not graffiti," she said.
Madden said that the coating on the restrooms doesn't allow for permanent markers or spray paint to easily adhere to the surface, and it's relatively easy to be cleaned off.
If you ask Richter, the color change is no big deal. He wants to keep it that way.
"If we don't hear anything about it, usually, that means that it's working well."