.. spending a penny

November 1, 2012 at 3:42 pm Leave a comment

I can’t remember why I did this, but during the Olympics I found that if I searched Twitter for “30p London” or “30p toilet” I could enjoy over 100 sarcastic, passive-aggressive tweets from people arriving at London’s train stations and bitching about having to pay to pee.

Naturally I thought this is something worth recording, so I saved 20-30 of the best tweets and summarised their sentiments into a story using Storify. It’s called ‘A Posh Wee’, and you can read it here: http://storify.com/gaillyk/posh-wee

The Royal Parks

A few weeks later, the Royal Parks (who run 9 or so parks in London) announced that they were going to start charging 20p for their loos. I can’t say I blame them. I spoke to someone from the Royal Parks as part of our research, who said that whilst their toilets are well-used in summer, there may be no one in all day during a rainy December. The charges would help them to keep operating the facilities.

Vanessa Feltz on BBC London had a phone-in about the Royal Parks charges. I listened intently and learnt via the accompanying tweets that it wasn’t just the Royal Parks that were bringing in charges. Covent Garden public toilets had installed pay barriers! My favourite free toilet in London, charging? How could this be?

Westminster Council

Whilst press attention focused on the parks, Westminster Council had handed more of their toilets, including Covent Garden, over to CityLoos to manage, who would be charging a princely 50p!

CityLoos have been charging 50p at 3 facilities near parliament for some years, but now they’d be taking over 9 attended, free, and in some cases 24hr public toilets in the West End.

A good day for CityLoos; a sad day for the city’s loos?

According to one of Westminster Council’s own surveys, 3 of the West End facilities each have over a million visitors a year. This number will certainly fall now that there’s a charge, and I’d love to know by how much, but it’s still an impressive cash-generator.

Is this the future of public toilets?

It is in London. In the past, local authorities haven’t been able to charge in the same way as private providers like the train stations or CityLoos because of the 1963 Public Lavatories (Turnstiles) Act, which prohibited the installation of turnstiles because they reduce accessibility.  However the 2012 London Local Authorities Act has revoked this rule for London.

The argument presented to parliament was that the councils didn’t wish to install turnstiles as we know them, but that they wanted to install paddle-gates, such as are used at the ticket barriers at train and tube stations. Apparently, paddle-gates are also classified as ‘a type of turnstile’. Either way, any turnstile is now permitted in the capital, so expect more charges and barriers to appear.

Our research was 50-50 on whether people were for or against charges. The arguments for both can be found in a double-page spread of Publicly Accessible Toilets: An Inclusive Design Guide, which can be downloaded via the link on the right. A popular opinion on charging is “I don’t mind paying for a cleaner loo” and there is an expectation of quality when a charge is implemented.

The Jubiloo

The new toilet at the South Bank, the “Jubiloo“, is 50p a turn, and here they’ve tried to justify the cost with a quality facility.

This is a building that isn’t ashamed to be a toilet! Instead it attracts curiosity, with an attention to both architecture (by Mark Power) and atmosphere.

Bench at "The Jubiloo"

However the train station charges do not guarantee a nice loo, as I know from plenty of personal experience. The sheer amount of use seems to create an ongoing battle just to keep the facilities working.

Happily, charging for the toilet at a train station is not ‘the norm’. The stations that charge correspond largely with the 17 stations operated by Network Rail: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester – and 11 in London.

It transpires that the tweets that I found during the Olympics was not a blip caused by more people coming to the capital for London 2012, but a regular feature of Twitter.

Admittedly, people use Twitter to vent, so the flip-side of the argument, those that think ‘I’m quite happy to pay 30p for the ladies and appreciate the service’ are not going to tweet about it.

However, if you click on ‘30p London‘ or ‘30p toilet‘ it does reveal a certain strength of feeling, particularly amongst visitrs, and thanks to both Westminster Council and the Jubiloo, we can now enjoy ‘50p toilet‘ too!

(for views on charging from the rest of the country, try clicking ‘20p toilet‘. How’s that for regional differences?)

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Entry filed under: Service Design. Tags: , , .

The Great British Public Toilet Map – version 2! … the British Toilet Association

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