Public toilets, we love them (when we can find them) and we hate them. In 2017, CAS conducted a survey showing that 41% of French people no longer use public toilets, and rises to 80% when it comes to women, who avoid going there.
In June 2021, we conducted our own field survey on public toilets in Paris. Five locations, tourist, living, event or just passing places, from automatic toilets to urinals, through construction cabins. The panel of people interviewed shows that 71% of them never or rarely use public toilets. Why are the French increasingly shunning them?
Several obstacles have been identified
The first one being, as you have probably already been confronted with, cleanliness. 1 person out of 2 reported being bothered by the lack of cleanliness of public toilets.
It is hard to imagine that the questionable hygiene of public toilets leads to “wild pee”, and consequently to the greater dirtiness of streets and public spaces! It seems like a far-fetched reasoning, and yet.
Waiting is a second obstacle to use. In busy places, the too few toilets are taken by storm. In Montmartre and the Champ de Mars, the respondents tell us:
For automatic toilets, the cleaning time varies between 1min24 and 1min45. We insist, this time only represents the cleaning of the booths between two uses. It also includes the reactivity of people waiting to notice the availability of the cabin once it has been cleaned. In addition, the opening (or closing) of the cabin takes 9 seconds, increasing considerably the waiting time.
Other obstacles to use
The fear of getting stuck in the self-cleaning toilets was also mentioned by the people we interviewed. Even if none of them had to undergo this inconvenience, it is a brake that was often mentioned, especially by women.
As mentioned above, the lack of sanitary facilities leads to long queues at public toilets in busy places.
Sanitary facilities are uneven in France
In France, the disparity between cities in their sanitary facilities is noticeable. While Paris has 1 toilet for every 7,500 inhabitants, Rennes has 1 toilet for every 2,300 inhabitants. Marseille has less than 1 toilet per 23,000 inhabitants.
The presence (or absence) of public toilets in cities was particularly highlighted during the Covid-19 epidemic. The closure of restaurants, often preferred for pee breaks, raised questions about the layout and especially the sanitary constraints of public spaces.
It should also be noted that even when public restrooms are present, their operational condition can leave something to be desired. 1 out of 2 people reported that they too often found toilets that were degraded or out of order.
Urinals are in demand, and not just among men!
“It is still practical to have a place to urinate and it is cruelly lacking in Paris. You who are girls we agree it’s really bad!
This lack of toilets for women is clearly visible in all sanitary facilities. For example, on a duo toilet for men and women, there are 4 toilets on the women’s side, 6 on the men’s side, with 2 toilets and 4 urinals.
“Women don’t take twice as long as men, there are just twice as few toilets for them.
And for men, it is the lack of privacy at the urinals that is raised by our respondents:
“Open urinals, for a matter of privacy I will never use them.”
In conclusion, public toilets are a major issue in city planning.
They are a particularly revealing marker of the place of women in the public space, and the situation is not brilliant, we see that there is a lot of work to be done on the subject!
They are also the image of the welcome that a city reserves to its tourists.