Protests make Wash­ing­ton’s port-a-potty in­dus­try flush

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY PERRY STEIN

Pres­i­dent Trump vowed on the cam­paign trail to boost eco­nomic growth and be the “great­est jobs pro­ducer that God ever cre­ated.”

His eco­nomic legacy is far from sealed, but it’s safe to say he has made at least one in­dus­try flush: the Wash­ing­ton re­gion’s por­ta­ble-toi­let in­dus­try.

The Trump pres­i­dency has brought an in­creased num­ber of protests — and, yes, blad­ders and bow­els — to the Mall. Protest or­ga­niz­ers are rent­ing record num­bers of port-a-pot­ties in the Trump era for demon­stra­tors to re­lieve them­selves be­tween chants and marches.

The Na­tional Park Ser­vice, which over­sees the Mall, re­quires demon­stra­tion per­mit hold­ers to pro­vide one por­ta­ble toi­let for ev­ery 300 par­tic­i­pants, 20 per­cent of which must be wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble, said Mike Lit­terst, a spokesman for the agency.

Dur­ing Jan­uary’s Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton, for in­stance, that meant nearly 600 priv­ies — an en­tirely in­suf­fi­cient num­ber that snarled throngs of antsy pro­test­ers in long bath­room lines.

Rob Weghorst, chief op­er­at­ing

of­fi­cer of Vir­ginia-based portable­toi­let rental com­pany Don’s Johns, said the in­crease in po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cacy — typ­i­cally among pro­test­ers with left-lean­ing po­lit­i­cal affini­ties — has trans­lated to boom times. His com­pany, which re­cently ac­quired former com­peti­tor Gene’s Johns Toi­lets, pro­vided toi­lets for the Women’s March, the Peo­ples Cli­mate March and oth­ers on the Mall this year.

“All I’m go­ing to say is that we love the ac­tivism. I’ll leave it at that,” Weghorst said. “It’s been good. It’s made for an in­ter­est­ing and lu­cra­tive spring.”

The NPS said it has seen more than a 30 per­cent in­crease in per­mit­ted protests com­pared with this time last year, with some at­tract­ing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple. And how­ever ur­gent the pro­test­ers’ causes, other ur­gent needs in­evitably emerge dur­ing a long day on the Mall for the prop­erly hy­drated.

Fred­er­ick Hill III, owner of the District-based Gotta Go Now, says his port-a-potty com­pany has seen about a 40 per­cent in­crease in rev­enue each month of 2017 com­pared with a year ear­lier. So far in May, busi­ness is run­ning 50 per­cent ahead of last year.

Weghorst and Hill said longterm rentals on con­struc­tion sites still ac­count for the bulk of their busi­ness. But Hill said protests are par­tic­u­larly fruit­ful since the events typ­i­cally last only a day, and the toi­lets — most of­ten as­so­ci­ated with foul smells and grimy con­di­tions — sus­tain only min­i­mal dam­age but carry a pretty rental price tag.

De­pend­ing on the bulk of the or­der, Gotta Go Now charges be­tween $85 and $125 per toi­let, in­clud­ing de­liv­ery and pickup.

“It seems that there are protests ev­ery week that we are do­ing,” Hill said. “We’re quite ac­tive with them.”

For first-time protest or­ga­niz­ers, the cost of por­ta­ble toi­lets can be un­ex­pected and stag­ger- ing. Jor­dan Uhl, a District res­i­dent plan­ning the March for Truth on June 3 near the White House, said por­ta­ble toi­lets will the big­gest cost of the protest — an ex­pense of nearly $5,000 he wasn’t ex­pect­ing to in­cur.

The March for Truth will call for a fair and trans­par­ent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign’s al­leged Rus­sia ties, with the main demon­stra­tion oc­cur­ring in Wash­ing­ton, along with dozens of smaller protests across the coun­try.

In an era when many peo­ple ca­su­ally RSVP to protests via Face­book, Uhl said, pin­ning down an ac­cu­rate head count — and there­fore, know­ing how many port-a-pot­ties to rent — is dif­fi­cult. Or­der­ing more toi­lets than needed is a waste of money. Too few toi­lets brings its own set of un­sa­vory chal­lenges.

“I have a to­tally dif­fer­ent perbe cep­tion now of how these things hap­pen. It makes sense; it’s just dif­fi­cult,” Uhl said. “I guess it’s just a com­pli­ment to Trump that he has been great for the lo­cal por­ta­ble-potty in­dus­try. That’s one good thing he’s do­ing.”

Uhl and other March for Truth or­ga­niz­ers launched an on­line funding cam­paign to help pay for the protest’s ex­penses. While those con­tribut­ing are os­ten­si­bly do­nat­ing to a pro­gres­sive cause, much of the do­nated money is go­ing to­ward toi­lets.

Ac­tress Alyssa Mi­lano made her own $500 con­tri­bu­tion to the March for Truth and is happy to help de­fray the toi­let costs. She said she hopes to at­tend the march, writ­ing in an email to The Post that Trump’s “war on truth may be the most im­por­tant is­sue we face.”

“I’m fine with my money go­ing wher­ever the or­ga­niz­ers need it to go to make this a spe­cial mo­ment in democ­racy,” Mi­lano wrote.

For vet­eran D.C. or­ga­niz­ers, the com­pli­cated and messy toi­let lo­gis­tics come as no sur­prise.

Janaye In­gram, a na­tional or­ga­nizer for the Women’s March who has planned nu­mer­ous Wash­ing­ton protests, said get­ting toi­lets for the Women’s March the day af­ter the in­au­gu­ra­tion was par­tic­u­larly tricky. Most of the re­gion’s por­ta­ble-toi­let re­serves al­ready were staged around the Mall for the in­au­gu­ra­tion, but each needed to be cleaned and toi­let pa­per re­plen­ished in less than 24 hours.

In the end, or­ga­niz­ers couldn’t se­cure enough toi­lets for the large crowd, even though lava­to­ries still ended up be­ing one of the march’s big­gest costs.

“The toi­lets were a huge part of our bud­get, and they do cost more than what peo­ple an­tic­i­pate them cost­ing,” In­gram said. “Any time you are plan­ning a march, you need to make sure that peo­ple can see, you need to make sure that peo­ple can hear, and you need to make sure that peo­ple can go to the re­stroom.”

“All I’m go­ing to say is that we love the ac­tivism. I’ll leave it at that . . . . It’s made for an in­ter­est­ing and lu­cra­tive spring.” Rob Weghorst, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of toi­let rental firm Don’s Johns

PHO­TOS BY MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Owner of Gotta Go Now por­ta­ble toi­lets Fred­er­ick Hill III, in the red ball cap, works with his em­ploy­ees to load port-a-pot­ties for de­liv­ery from his Up­per Marl­boro, Md., base. So far in May, Gotta Go Now’s busi­ness is run­ning 50 per­cent ahead of this month last year, thanks partly to an in­crease in de­mand from D.C. pro­test­ers.

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