UK Study Says Public Washrooms Are "As Essential as Streetlights"

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CC BY 2.0. Washrooms in Ryerson University/ Lloyd Alter

Public washrooms really are just as important as public roads because, in both cases, people gotta go.

A new report prepared by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK has concluded that "the inadequate provision of public loos is a threat to health, mobility, and equality, and it is time these services are considered as essential as streetlights and waste collection."

This is not just a British problem either; I was recently in France and saw men peeing against walls everywhere, at any time. I was in restaurants (some brand new) with one toilet. And Americans will remember what happened in Philadelphia last year, when Starbucks became America's bathroom.

But even where there were public toilets, they have been closing down due to funding cutbacks, or have been privatized. It is particularly unfair to women, who have to line up 59 percent of the time, compared to men who have to queue only 11 percent of the time. The report says "a fair ratio of toilet provision would be at least 2:1 in favour of women."

The report notes that the lack of public washrooms causes real problems for people. Two big problems:

Fluid Restriction: Fifty-six percent of survey respondents reported restricting fluid intake either occasionally or frequently, due to concern that they might not find a toilet. Eleven percent reported that they restricted fluids more than once a week, rising to 13% among women compared to 9% of men.
"Loo Leash" sometimes also called a ‘urinary leash,’ refers to being unable to stray far from home, in case no toilet can be found. Two in five (42%) respondents reported that they have restricted outings on this basis, including 4% who have to do this more than once a week. Strikingly, one in five of the general public agreed that they are ‘not able to go out as often as [they] would like because of concerns around a lack of public toilets.’
reasons for not using bathroom

Royal Society for Public Health/CC BY 2.0

Many people don't use the public washrooms that are out there now because they can be awful. And when asked in the survey whether governments should pay for washrooms that were better and cleaner, 85 percent said that local governments should have “a legal responsibility to provide public toilets which are free to use for the public” – but only 34 percent thought they should pay more taxes to cover the cost. The report concludes:

Public toilets should be considered as essential as streetlights, roads and waste collection, and equally well enforced by legislation and regulations. The lack of provision is affecting equality, mobility, physical fitness and other aspects of health. However, our survey also demonstrated a central problem – no one wants to pay for them. It is high time to consider potential solutions.

This is a subject that I have written about often on sister site MNN, where I noted:

The situation is only going to get worse as the population ages (baby boomer men have to pee a lot), but there are also people with irritable bowel syndrome, pregnant women and others who simply need a bathroom more often or at less convenient moments. Authorities say providing public washrooms can't be done because it would cost "hundreds of millions" but never have a problem spending billions on the building of highways for the convenience of drivers who can drive from home to the mall where there are lots of washrooms. The comfort of people who walk, people who are old, people who are poor or sick — that doesn't matter.

Public washrooms really are just as important as public roads because, in both cases, people gotta go.