… Money, Cost & Value – Part II
As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to fund a toilet.
Having just exhausted the subject of charging the public to use the loos in “…Money, Cost & Value“, I’m going to move on to other ways of generate money, and more importantly, other ways of adding value. (Personally I’d skip the Money part…)
Ways to Generate Money
- Advertising, like they do on bus stops.
There’s already a funny overlap here. One company (J C Decaux) who make Tardis style toilets (officially known as APCs – Automatic Public Conveniences, or sometimes Superloos) also do advertising boards, and sometimes provide a toilet (or toilets) free to a council in exchange for the right to advertise in the area.
So you could advertise on the outside of the toilets, as the APCs do, or on the inside. Personally it seems like a great location since people like having something to read! The only thing I’d say is that there’s a mixture of opinions in the public toilet world as to whether it’s OK for these adverts to be ‘relevant’ to the, er, situation.
To give an example, twice now helpful friends have come back from a trip and handed me a credit card sized piece of paper that they picked up in a service station (probably not on the back of the door, but from inside the loos). It’s for a public awareness campaign by the Bladder & Bowel Foundation, saying ‘An urgent need to empty your bladder is not an inevitable part of ageing’ with contact info to help. Which is totally appropriate, situational advertising.
At Walsall New Art Gallery (which, by the way, is a pretty cool place to visit) there’s a sticker saying ‘Do you self harm? Do you know someone who self harms?’ along with contact info.
Here’s where it starts to get a bit blurry (and I’m aware I’ve gone Wildly off topic again – this isn’t generating any money!). Because the cubicle is a private space, it’s the perfect place to give information on private subjects, where, I suppose, the person is in a sufficiently private place to read it without judgement and take down the details.
The downside (and I’m already discounting it in my head) is that it brings up other scarier, connotations about public toilets that put ‘the general public’ off them and give the perception of danger. Though I should say that the self-harming sign was made so much worse by being in a cubicle that used UV Lighting, which is put in so that drug addicts can’t see their veins and therefore can’t shoot up (it doesn’t work, by the way.)
But, well, yeah. Adverts like this, and rape hotlines and emergency numbers and others that I’ve seen do need promotion, so the advantages to society in advertising in this private place I’m sure outweigh the disadvantages to the image of the public toilet. I’m just trying to give the whole picture.
More could really be done with this. Public toilets seem to sell ‘necessities’ at a pretty hefty if predictable mark-up, often in machines that don’t look like they’d work in any case. Westminster have started selling ‘disposable toothbrushes’ or something; I tried it once, I think it was a weird ball that you chew that cleans your teeth. And of course there are weighing scales. Maybe you could sell antibacterial gel (people Love that nowadays) or wet wipes or tissues or perfume. It doesn’t have to just be condoms and tampons, and it might make people take more interest.
I don’t actually know anything about vending and have done no research, but it has reminded me of the 1965 Good Loo Guide: Where to go in London that I just happen to have on my desk (3s 6d in old money, or 1p on Amazon, which is an amazing exchange rate. Get your copies Quick!) It covers hotels as well as public loos, but just looking at the index it gives info on where to find 9 different types of perfume (For the men, I can tell you that Old Spice is available for 6d at Victoria Coach Station).
To give some other examples of things provided in yesteryear, we have:
Adhesive Dressings, Alka Seltzer, Bath Talc, Chlorophyll (!), Electric Razors, Hand Creams, Mouthwash, Nylons, Soda Mints, and a telephone. And a Psychiatrist’s Couch in the Ladies at The Law Courts, ‘for tired litigants’ (it’s not clear if the psychiatrist is also provided).
I guess these things disappeared because of vandalism, but at town or city centre facilities with full or part-time attendants they could help bring people in and make them stay longer, improving the atmosphere, and reducing the opportunities for misbehaviour.
Gosh I’ve just remembered. My friend says there are public toilets at Charing Cross Station with hair-straighteners! They cost £1 or so and you get a few minutes worth. Definitely worth remembering.
Which nicely (and fortuitously, as I don’t know any other ways of generating money) brings me on to:
I much prefer the idea of adding value since public services by their nature aren’t suited to making money. I appreciate the importance of covering costs, but a well used facility is a valuable one and justifies the council expenditure. In any case, councils seem to measure things on slightly arbitary measures like ‘cost per visit’, regardless of value, so at least by attracting more visitors we’re making the figures look better.
The more important (or less cynical) justification for adding value and attracting visitors is that a busier facility is a safer facility, both in real terms and in perception. And if you can add value that has a community angle, the users may care for the facility better as well.
What I’m imagining is maps of the area, notice-boards for local groups (inside or outside the public toilets, or in an entrance area), helpful local information and leaflets, a dog bowl in summer, bike racks, public seating. It may seem like no one would want to use these things because they’re next to the toilets, but if you treat a public toilet like a place where no one would want to go (hide it in bushes or next to the bins and position other things far away to ‘protect’ them) then that’s exactly what it’ll become.
What I’ve been very slowly building to is the example of Wolverhampton City Council.
After some campaigning by the local older people’s group they invested a lot of money in rebuilding a city centre facility.
They did this by renting a shop from the central shopping centre (it’s called WCityStop.info, opposite Beatties, if anyone’s interested), and converting it into a free public toilet facility with full-time attendant, baby changing and feeding facilities, and even a shower.
What they also did, however, was give the attendants a reception desk that greets you when you enter the facility, where you could pick up information on the city and council.
I did wonder whether this was a way to ‘justify’ spending the money on public toilets – (“It’s not a public toilet, it’s a council information centre! With lots of loos…”) but no, they just added this aspect because they thought it would be useful. They also added a display screen showing council films and promotions (including I think some advertising), and even a free phone and an internet access point to council services!
And that’s not even what impressed me. What I really liked is that around this time of year the council run a campaign called Keep It Safe to “help night-time visitors enjoy themselves safely and securely” (at least they did last year…). In the past they’ve opened the public toilets at night to be used as a ‘temporary minor injuries clinic’ to reduce pressure on ambulance services, and the following year as more of a crash pad for
drunk tired people who needed to warm up, drink some water or wait for a cab.
And they handed out blankets and flip-flops!
Fantastic. If that’s not adding value, I don’t know what is!