A Vancouver man is sharing a cautionary tale after getting stuck in one of the city's high-tech self-cleaning public toilets.

Paul Taylor says he was locked inside the public toilet for 45 minutes before city staff arrived to pry open the door with a crowbar.

The concept behind the self-cleaning toilets is simple: a user steps in, locks the door, and when the user exits, the facility flushes and cleans itself. The toilets are programmed to automatically unlock after 12 minutes as a safety measure.

But when Taylor used the toilet at the corner of Nelson and Granville streets last week, the door stayed locked. He tried the fail-safe lever, designed to open the door if it malfunctions, but he says that didn't work either.


The city says a handful of people have gotten stuck in the automatic toilets over the past four years. (Chad Pawson/CBC)

Eventually, Taylor used his smartphone to call the city for help. After 45 minutes, two workers arrived to spring him out with a crowbar.

"I asked the guy sort of, 'What, so you used a crow-bar to get this thing open?' and he said something to the effect that he thought he had fixed it ... which suggested to me that the problem had occurred before."

Taylor said he's always been curious about the automatic, self-cleaning public toilets — though he never expected to spend so much time in one. 

"There's something kind of intriguing about these stalls, kind of sci-fi and slightly menacing," he said. "Given that angle of my curiosity, I guess it was ironic that I got locked in one."

The city has installed eight of the toilets throughout downtown Vancouver since 2007. They are installed and maintained by CBS/Decaux as part of a larger contract to provide outdoor furniture in exchange for the right to sell advertising space.

The city says a small number of people have been caught inside over the years, and officials receive a weekly operations report from CBS/Decaux. The city says it is investigating the incident.