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German Cities Are Solving the Age-Old Public Toilet Problem (fastcoexist.com)
269 points by doener on Nov 20, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 170 comments

I've heard a lot of people complain about all the shit on the streets of San Francisco. For such a clearly visible and obviously unwanted problem, I'm shocked and puzzled by the lack of action to provide more public toilets.

Why is it so hard? If you don't want shit on the streets, the obvious solution is public toilets, no?

Instead, most of the people complaining about the shit on the streets blame it on homeless people, as if it's their fault that there's nowhere for them to shit except on the streets. What are they supposed to do? Hold it in?

One group of people has the wherewithal to solve this problem, and it's not the mentally ill homeless people who can barely take care of themselves.

You'd think one of the wealthiest countries on the planet would have gotten basic sanitation right by now.

I think a lot of people just want problems to go away without having to pay anything.

You can very much see it in the attitude in the US towards taxes. People do not like taxes. Without taxes, you can only do so much.

Because when you provide public toilets, they end up being monopolized by junkies as a place to shoot up.

No they don't. when you supply hardly any public toilets, then yeah, that's going to be a problem. When you make plenty of them available and create jobs to keep them clean, it tends not to be that big of a problem.

I used to work as a cook, and before I could cook I had to learn every other job in the restaurant. Believe me I've cleaned my share of junkie-occupied toilets. It's a problem, but not the insurmountable problem you claim.

...or you can treat it like the public health issue it is and provide sharps bins in toilets.


> Community sharps are needles, syringes and lancets that are used to administer medications and drugs outside a clinical setting.

> We need to dispose of sharps safely to prevent needlestick injury in our public places, at home and for workers who remove waste or clean facilities.

> Whether or not a community sharp is used for medication or drug use, sharps are to be treated as clinical waste, like they would be in a hospital.

> Local councils have a number of community sharps bins installed in community centres, libraries and public toilets to encourage sharps waste to be managed separately from general waste.

I've also seen public toilets lighted up in ghastly blue light that makes it hard to see your veins.

While annoying, it's better than no public toilets; and presumably easier for the people maintaining the toilets than dealing with junkies.

(I think they still had sharp bins.)

They don't have to see their vein. Sometimes they feel it or they already know what spot to go for.

City's are big, when you have a million+ people you can find a small group doing just about anything. Further, these people would shoot up somewhere else without public toilets.

Most telling if you had twice as many of them you would not get twice as many people shooting up.

I've already acknowledged it as a problem. Simply throwing a bunch of links at me isn't going to alter my view or anyone else's. If you have an argument to make, make it.

Just not the case.

Public municipal toilets in Europe are staffed, just one person constantly keeping the place clean, and ready to call the police if anything like that goes on.

And it works. Certainly works better than having elevator shafts in MUNI and BART smell of excrement.

I've also heard of modern, self-cleaning public toilets which automatically open their doors after a certain period of time.

Those should make it difficult for anyone to hog them.

We have a few in Melbourne http://thethousands.com.au/melbourne/stray/most-expensive-pu...

Don't think they're self cleaning though.

They are self cleaning.

Melbourne also has pop-up urinals that come out of the sidewalk late at night because all the drunks used to just piss on the street or the sides of buildings...


That sounds absolutely awful.

Because what's better than being 20 minutes into the worst diarrhoea shit of your life whilst away from home? Oh yeah, the door deciding to swing open when you're 21 minutes in.

It's what we have in Paris.

..or for a someone to sleep for the night out of the wind.

Lots of reasons why a small building providing nothing but toilet services gets re-purposed. I think the German system would work in San Francisco, but if the Bremen experience is correct it should be possible to pay a restaurant $500 a month for leaving their toilet open. That might help fund the additional cleaning and supplies needed.

The German system would be a step in the right direction (if the restaurants that participated actually let homeless people use their toilets). But most restaurants in SF close pretty early, and some problem parts of the city don't even have restaurants nearby. What would one do at night, or when in one of those problem areas?

Why would a junkie want to shoot up in a public toilet of all places? Sure I imagine its better than a park bench in front of the police station, but observing worse solutions doesn't prove something else is the best solution. Their own bathroom? A methadone or other treatment strategy clinic? Its a mere assumption that a culture rich enough to afford places to poop can afford mental health care? Some contaminant in the dirt of the USA that makes it unaffordable here, only affordable everywhere else in the civilized world? If so, wouldn't it be sensible to fix or decontaminate our magic dirt? What, specifically, is wrong with our magic dirt, such that it doesn't work here?

I've noticed that since I was a kid, something has developed such that the public library seems to be used as a free day care center for poor people. The solution to that societal ill is probably not to ban libraries, or ban being poor.

Legalize drugs and make safe places to use the more dangerous ones.

The book Chasing the Scream explores this in detail.

Not if they have legal injecting rooms.

True words spoken, even the bastion of free high quality bathrooms - MC Donalds - nowadays uses recipe scanners in a lot of its bathrooms.

The poor people simply don't have a place to shit and nobody wants to give it to them for free.

In Japan public toilets are ubiquitous, free, and fairly clean. I wonder how they do it? Is it because Japanese people generally take better care of public spaces and keeping the toilets clean and operational is thus cheaper?

Japan keeps its unemployment low in a very forceful way. There are a huge number of people employed for low pay doing low efficiency work, just to keep everyone working a job. For example, you might see someone telling pedestrians to watch their step near a construction site, and the voice announcing trains at the station might be a real person holding a microphone.

> and the voice announcing trains at the station might be a real person holding a microphone.

Before the privatization attempts, the Deutsche Bahn used real announcers on the major train stations.

Now, after decades of cost-cutting, it's pre-recorded audio pieces played by a computer. They sound broken and mismatching (because it's no TTS engine), they fail to be played half the time (and frequent rail users would claim the failure rate at 90%+) and of course the stuff breaks down when something unexpected happens (like emergency rail closures, due to people on the rails, med emergencies, police action, ...).

In Britain, all the station names are pre-recorded by a professional voice actor, as well as common problems, and many not-so-common ones.

"The nineteen fifty two ... Southern service to ... Brighton ... is delayed by approximately ... twelve ... minutes due to ... trespassers-on-the-railway. Please listen for further announcements. We apologize for the inconvenience."

(Replace with "a passenger taken ill on a train" or "action by the police".)

"The train approaching platform ... two ... is the ... delayed ... nineteen fifty-two ... Southern ... service to ... Brighton ... calling at ... Clapham Junction, East Croydon, Gatwick Airport, Haywards Heath and Brighton. This train has ... twelve ... coaches. Platform ... two ... for the nineteen fifty-two service to ... Brighton."

I much prefer it to a live announcement. The slightly ... odd pauses are distinctive, but mean derivations from the usual announcement stand out, whilst the whole thing is soporific for commuters. For others, there's the much-needed repetition of the most important bits; the destination of the train is spoken three times.

Examples: https://youtu.be/0cg-n-GF38E?t=139 (At 3:20 there's a Welsh one!)

(I don't like the repeated keep-your-luggage announcements, but maybe they're justified since people are still trying to bomb railways with abandoned luggage.)

Absolutely love these mad libs style announcements. I can't say why but they give me a rather pleasant feeling, and the clear tone of voice change seems to signal to me "important stuff here" while the rest is "filler here". Lewisham, especially, is so out of character. Highly amusing.

Same in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Still better than when the train driver makes the announcements, which are often hardly intelligible, because they're either too far away from the microphone, or because the cockpit is too noisy. It gets even better when they have to speak English as well: Then their favorite technique is to speak so fast that they skip every second syllable, hoping that it will be over soon.

I agree with you on the train drivers' announcements, they tend to suck most of the time and usually suck most when the train is moving, because the mike picks up all the noise from the engine. Or because the connectors between carriages / the cabling wears down and signal quality degrades.

But on a station it is possible to only put people in front of the mike who speak accent-free German and English, and to properly adjust and maintain the amps, speakers and wiring.

Unless they are in a soundproof room somewhere you still have the problem of background noise coming through the speakers. One of the great benefits of automated or prerecorded messages is that they have no background noise.

One thing I like and heard for the first time on public buses in Bamberg (Germany) is prerecorded station names as in "next stop X" where each stop was read by a different school child. Made it a lot more friendly than the standard same voice for everything...and I'm assuming it was a local school class and they probably enjoy having their stations :D

For the Berlin S-Bahn, there is a weird mix of automatic and manual announcement. Where the train is heading is announced automatically, whereas "Einsteigen bitte" (board please) and "Zurückbleiben bitte" (stay clear) is announced by the driver. I imagine a driver saying this every 2-3 minutes in an 8 hour shift.

But also, I disagree with the failure rate of 90+%, from my experience I'd say it works pretty well in 90+% of the time. The system can even announce the "umgekehrte Wagenreihung" ;)

Personally I mostly find the scheduling of announcements annoying. Often it will broadcast generic reminders in batches of 2-3 and sometimes repeat them another time for good measure.

The pronunciation of city names is also rather lacking in many instances, and like you say often doesn't match the surrounding speech.

You haven't spent a lot of time in Japan. There are a lot of unemployed older men who have been out of work since the 1994 recession.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but how is "very forceful"?

Aren't these people are voluntary doing this work?

"forceful" probably means those jobs would not exist in pure capitalism.

I think they don't exist because there are minimum wage laws and it simply doesn't pay off to employ someone for ~8.50 (EUR or USD) an hour to do this because it generates less than it costs. Combine that with labor laws, unemployment benefits, food stamps and other "poverty fighting schemes" and no one is ever incentivized to take such a job for such a pay.

Summing up, my conclusion is the opposite of yours - those jobs would probably exist in pure capitalism.

Japan has undergone massive changes in the last ~20 years due to their "missing decade." But their culture for forty years before that included employment practices that would surprise many USians.

For instance, until recently ir was unusual for a person to have more than one employer in their lifetime. You entered the workforce just after high school or college and stayed with that employer for the rest of your career. People didn't quit and get a different job. And employers didn't fire people.

The elderly person standing in front of the construction fence warning people to be careful because of the danger used to be construction worker. Maybe they worked their way up in the company until they bumped into the Peter principle or until they physically or mentally couldn't do the job. Then then moved over, around, and down as their abilities declined. The folks who made it high enough to earn a retirement retire. The folks who didn't build a nest egg or spent their egg on Grandma's hospice care, or whatever, depend on the company to keep them in the mail room or sweeping the front lobby or something that will pay the rent and buy groceries.

I have seen many US companies that created Mission Statements and formalized a list of Corporate Values that included Loyalty. But I have seen very few US companies that are loyal to their employees. I suppose there are a lot of ways to be disloyal, but Japanese companies have generally been loyal in maintaining some level of employment to even the least competent of their employees.

Posts like yours are why I come to HN. Thank you.

If you liked that, you probably really want to read this blog post by HN user patio11 regarding his experiences doing business in Japan. It touches on this salaryman culture in way more detail.


I have to say I enjoyed how you guys argue wether or not something would exist in a pure capitalist economic system, that itself could not possibly exist outside of an Ayn Rand novel

>Combine that with labor laws, unemployment benefits, food stamps and other "poverty fighting schemes" and no one is ever incentivized to take such a job for such a pay.

Such laws subsidize automation research. As I think this research is undersupplied by a market with access to cheap labour, I'm all for them.

It generates less than it costs at the point of delivery. On the other hand everyone agrees that Japan is a lovely civilized country so this low-efficiency work seems to be generating a very large positive externality, just one that's a bit harder to measure.

Japan has minimum wages.

I'm having a hard time imagining how a significantly below minimum wage job would allow a person to exist and not starve in a 'pure capitalist' system. Minimum wage jobs only make sense now because those people have their expenses heavily subsidized by the state.

I mean, sure, I'll do whatever if it keeps me and mine alive; but if I'm gonna starve either way, I'm gonna starve hanging out in the sun reading a book.

Minimum wage is a destructive force

I agree, but you're getting a lot of downvotes. Perhaps explain why minimum wage is a destructive force.

It's not about cleaners in Japan, but you might find this article interesting, gives a bit of an insight into the different approach the Japanese have to employment:


They have a huge army of (mainly old people) cleaning them, so I think it's a sort of public works program to keep people employed -- and one I approve of.

Germany has a huge army of unemployed immigrants.

i'm guessing those people aren't going to be real happy with the toilet cleaning job.

Work is work. While I've never enjoyed cleaning toilets in jobs where my duties included that I've never especially objected to it either. I much prefer it to, say, cleaning out the grease traps in a commercial kitchen.

> Is it because Japanese people generally take better care of public spaces and keeping the toilets clean and operational is thus cheaper?

It's not because Japanese people are cleaner in public toilets - I have seen enough "dirty" toilets in Japan to convince me that it's not the key factor. The secret is simply very frequent cleaning - in some toilets you'll see a list with stamps showing when the cleaning lady came during the day, and it can be as frequent as every hour.

I'm all for it. Having no free public toilets is just another reason not to go out or to feel annoyed staying out for too long. In Japan since this is free people can shop for longer and spend more time in public places and I am pretty sure this kind of factor has a positive effect on consumption, which is why malls and areas with large concentration of shops usually have the cleanest toilets.

> in some toilets you'll see a list with stamps showing when the cleaning lady came during the day, and it can be as frequent as every hour.

In Germany, in many places, you've got paid public toilets - usually a few cents per use - but there will be a cleaning lady cleaning every few minutes.

"In Japan public toilets are ubiquitous, free, and fairly clean. I wonder how they do it?"

Just another rewording of:

In (rich, homogenous country X) they managed to organize (nice, progressive social program Y) and had good success. I wonder how they do it ?

It's easy to pay for your neighbor to have free health care when his name is also Lars Larson. It's easy to fund public initiatives when the end users are also named Asahi Ito, just like you.

I'm not really seeing the link between (I presume racial) homogeneity and clean toilets - there are plenty of developed countries with multicultural societies and progressive social programs.

For example Australia is just as multicultural as the US, has a good public health system, and public toilets are clean and ubiquitous. Maybe not quite as clean as Japanese toilets, but far cleaner than what you'd find in San Francisco.

Hah not where I live. You must live in a fancy part of Australia. I saw more cleaner toilets in the backwaters of China than here. At least when I did see them haha

IMO disrespect to public spaces arises from apathy (India/China are good examples), social tensions and abstractions (government taxes/responsibility).

While I don't think racial homogeneity is apart of it, cultural compatibility absolutely is. It's mostly co-incidence that differing racial groups carry differing culture baggage. As any race can adopt kinder cultural values and principals.

My first instinct was to agree with you. Sadly, I know quite a few Americans who could care less about their homogeneous neighbors, let alone those of different colors/creeds/cultures.

I found the public toilets in Singapur amazing. I'm not sure about cheap labor, but they certainly have draconian penalties for making a mess.

Singapore is still working really hard on being hospitable to foreign businesses. It works quite well.

>I'm not sure about cheap labor

Cheap labor is possibly relevant. Salaries and the cost of living are dramatically lower in Malaysia so apparently large numbers of Malaysians work in Singapore, often illegally, while essentially commuting from Malaysia.

Having a large pool of cheap possibly undocumented labor would certainly seem to make getting repetitive unskilled tasks done easier and cheaper.

Speaking of 'care of public places', at my office, there's someone who is hygiene-minded enough to put paper all over the toilet seat, but not enough to put it into the bowl afterwards, and so just lets it fall onto the floor where it can get all manky. I've always thought that that was a very specific level of hygeine-OCD.

Apparently they don't want to touch it once it's made contact with the toilet seat and their butt. Probably 'contaminated' now.

And yes, small failures like that seriously annoy me because they leave the bathroom looking dirtier than when they came in.

(Or those people who do not flush properly - don't get me started on them...)

It surprises me that we don't have reliable self-cleaning toilets and bathrooms. We have people unwilling to do their bit to keep them remotely clean, and then others whose job involves cleaning up the excrement of others.

I can appreciate it's a difficult problem, but we have the means to change the design of the bowl itself and many other aspects. While there are self-cleaning pods in parks, I've never seen the approach taken to internal toilets.

Same in Australia (Melbourne at least). It was really weird going to other cities (especially San Francisco) and having difficulty finding a toilet.

Melbourne even has toilets in train stations!

They seem to lock the majority of them at non-main stations though. I had your SF experience in Rome. Had to queue in McDonalds for 20 minutes. Fun!

When I read the title I thought it was about tackling a different issue, I didn't even think what they've solved is an issue. The real problem whether a toilet is owned by a business or government is about cleanliness. If it's true like you say that Japanese toilets are clean then this is not a financial issue but a cultural/behavioral one. Here in London whether public, a coffee shop, or a pub/bar excpect to walk through pools of urine and perhaps even find some poo on the seat. Changing behavior is harder than changing a funding model. Related is how many people will have shoes on seats on a bus or leaving half a sandwich on the chair.

Another difficult to replicate cultural norm, public restrooms in Japan also don't normally have paper towels or other hand drying methods. Most people carry a handkerchief with them for drying their own hands, and everyone saves from reduced paper towel waste.

One aspect not mentioned is that in Germany when you sell liquid drinks AND provide seats to sit down you also have to provide a toilet for customers.

I'm not sure this initiative is actually improving matters. I more believe it is trying to stem the tide of key codes at toilet doors. See this article from last year mentioning "nice toilet" initiative: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/wc-nur-fuer-gaeste-fra... Google translate: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=de&tl=en&u=h...

Many coffee shops in downtown NYC have the code/key situation.

There are similar regulations in NYC (and I think most of the US, although it is at a local level) that mandate customer bathrooms although they do not sound as strict. For example, small coffee shops (less than ~15 seats) frequently have no customer bathrooms.

Wow, that would be one of the first places I'd expect a restroom. Here in Vegas I continually find myself asking for a public restroom at convenience stores. It's usually hit or miss. Most do have seats for gamblers, so it's not the seats, most have hot prepared foods, so it's not that either. I've always thought that places that provide public facilities on their own initiative should maybe get some kind of subsidy for upkeep from the county or city government.

> For example, small coffee shops (less than ~15 seats) frequently have no customer bathrooms.

That sucks. As a person with a mild case of "what's-the-closest-toilet?"-angst I would feel quite awkward drinking a coffee and probably eating a cookie on the side knowing that there's no toilet close-by. As a matter of fact that would make me avoid those coffee shops entirely.

Bonus link, here's this Seinfeld clip where George speaks for all the people like me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYVBRQ7t46g

Bathrooms are only mandatory in NYC with 20+ seats. Some places will have "staff only" bathrooms you can use if you're not obviously a junkie.

There's also the program called "Die Nette Toilette" (The nice toilet http://www.die-nette-toilette.de/) where the City pays Restaurants a fee for making their toilets public, which works out to 17.000EUR/year instead of 40.000EUR/month in maintenance costs for public toilets. This is currently done by 127 cities in Germany.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is literally the program described in the original article.

whoops, usually read the comments first and then the article. my bad.

umm, that's precisely what this article is about.

Berlin licenses all its advertising space to private companies and lets them build and maintain public toilets as part of the deal. The toilets are usually barrier free and fully automated, i.e. they do a full cleaning after every use. They are in fairly good conditions and I thought this was a great idea, but the senate has issued a request for tender in 2018 so the future is a bit unclear at the moment.


Same in Paris (JCDecaux). But I wonder the cost for just 400 toilets in a city center with 2 million inhabitants and lots of tourists.

The cities pay 50-150€/mo to the owners [1]. I wouldn't participate if I would own a bar/restaurant.

Slightly OT: A shopping mall in germany, where paying for the use of the toilet is voluntary (50Ct / use) makes on avg. ~300€/day, during christmas season up to 8000€/day [2]. If I would own a venue at a highly frequented place I'd rather request 50Ct from the user. ;)

[1] https://www.welt.de/regionales/koeln/article13794805/Nette-T... (german)

[2] http://waz.m.derwesten.de/dw/staedte/oberhausen/gladbecker-f... (german)

This assumes that

1. Participating in the program will cause you additional costs

2. Participating will decrease the voluntary payments

I have no data to back this up but my gut feeling is that neither is true. People will prefer toilets in restaurants anyway and at least the locals are used to favour them over public toilets. My thesis is that putting up the "Nette Toilette" sticker will not draw more "customers".

When it comes to the voluntary payment: It's considered tipping money for the cleaning staff, so people will probably tip the same. And even if they did not it shouldn't make a difference for you as a restaurant owner, because it's not your money anyway. At least in theory...

Newbie question: is it really voluntary? When I was in Germany last year I used the toilets at a bar where I was a customer, and not understanding the etiquette/signs, I walked out without paying. But the "creepy guy sitting alone at a table right outside the toilets" started yelling at me loudly about Geld... at which point I understood he was the cleaner and tipped 2 Euro.

(I'm approaching this as an Australian, where public toilets and toilets in shopping malls / department stores are always free. But I don't mind a user-pays system.)

Most places where you have to pay, you usually have to pay up front. The yelling guy might just have called you names for being cheap, I certainly wouldn't expect toilets at a bar to have a mandatory fee.

Another scheme is usually found at Autobahn rest stops, where you actually have to pay for toilets, but get a voucher over the full amount that you can then use in their shops.

At a bar it's most probably voluntary. There are some toilets where you have to pay after your visit but normally they put a sign on it, if it's mandatory. I only know it if there is a funfair or some kind of it. Like this: http://www.kem-zelte.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/1-IMAG017...

I'd say it's a good habit to always throw 50 Ct on the table - except if the person is as agressive/unfriendly as you describe. ;)

>1. Participating in the program will cause you additional costs

I can't believe you would claim that point # 1 would be false.

You're talking about letting the world into your establishment to use the restroom. You should know the state most public toilets are in.

The city has now moved that into your restaurant or bar. Your employees will have to clean it, or you will have to pay for the cleaning services.

So I must say, 150euros seems extremely low for this service.

My second thought was that this could be easily exploited. I assume controllers verify that signs are not ripped down or obscured for all those receiving the grant but for 150 euro a month I see no large incentive to cheat in this program anyways.

> You should know the state most public toilets are in.

That's exactly my point. No one uses them, everyone goes to restaurants and pubs anyway - so nothing changes.

I don't know what dream city you live in but where I live, if you're not finding heroin addicts in public restrooms it's a good day.

But heroin addicts aside, you'll get drunk teenagers, tagging, careless behavior and even vandalism.

That's what I'm saying. Most people avoid public toilets and the initiative is a little compensation for a fact that restaurant owners can't change anyway. In my opinion it will not change peoples behaviour.

Yes, you're right, I too think people would "tip" anyway. I just assumed that if you're participating in the program the cities may kind of forbid to ask for money.

In this case your neighbor participating in the program puts you out of (the toilet) business!

I think the toilet business is only a good one on a large scale anyway: mostly due to fixed costs for paying the cleaning staff no matter if you operate a restroom with 1 or 20 seats.

BTW: I'm not sure about the neighbor. As I would only ask for a voluntary 50 Ct. there's no reason to prefer the other guys toilet. I assume my toilet would be preferred because it's cleaner (cause I'd pay more to my cleaning staff).

> (cause I'd pay more to my cleaning staff).

cleaning staff never gets a lot of money and if you need 50 ct to use your toilet it will probably not be the preferred one because people who pay direct money mostly think they can do whatever they want (they paid for it) so every use is more problematic than somebody who can use the toilet for free (exceptions confirm the rule).

Except the neighbour has higher costs having to deal with cleaning the toilets that's not being offset by increased profits. TINSTAAFL or TINSTAAFT in this case.

depends. the 50c toilets are often significantly cleaner with automated washing between uses and similar stuff.

In Boston, a big problem is at 2:30 AM after the bars close and people are wandering the streets to get home because public transit is also (inexplicably) closed. When everything is closed, how do you prevent people from pooping and pissing in alleys (or in broad streetlight)?

Or, for the opposite type of person, runners at 5 in the morning have the same problem. Miles away from home, sudden need to go to the bathroom, everything is closed.

Some cities in Europe do this late at night: http://www.citymetric.com/horizons/toilets-are-popping-city-...

> a big problem is at 2:30 AM after the bars close

Germany doesn't have that problem, because, if you go to a club or bar before midnight, you're very early.

The real fun only starts at 2AM, and most clubs and bars close after 5am - when others are already opening again.

It's closed because between 8 and 2:30 they make no money, so why would they keep it open for 6 hours.

In the UK the councils subsidise the local transport to stay open till 1/2am.

Boston has blue laws around the sale of alcohol.

See also: no alcohol sales before noon on Sunday, no discounted liquor at restaurants, and every bar/pub that sells liquor must also sell food.

It's funny what kind of food satisfies that law. One night after a few prior stops I ended up at a very local and very Irish bar. Sipping from a bottle and dreaming of fried potatoes I ask the bartender what food was available. After showing visible disdain for my non-Boston accent he laughs and points to a sparse rack of old peanut bags. I guess beer is food sometimes.

I don't understand why I'm being downvoted, can you explain?

Public transport loses money in the evenings, across the world they get shut down unless subsidised.

I downvoted you because you talked about your downvotes.

Don't interrupt the discussion to meta-discuss the scoring system.

I might have phrased it wrong but I was literally asking what was wrong with what I said.

I'm getting confused by HN these days, it's like you get random d/vs for absolutely nothing.

In the cynical British context I see the stickers on windows regarding the scheme and assume that it just means there are no public toilets any more. I would not go in to the cafe etc. for a quick visit to the lavatory, I would still feel odd about not buying anything.

It is a cultural thing and I expect most British people would expect their council to maintain public toilets rather than not bother and have some community business scheme. It reeks of privatisation and down sizing the local council.

I like the idea, but...

> If a venue took the cash and didn't display its sticker, for example, the public would soon report it to the city.

How exactly would "the public" know the venue takes part in the program if they don't display the sticker?

There's a website (and an app) with a list of all participating venues: http://www.die-nette-toilette.de/wer-macht-bereits-mit.html (in German)

Common sense appears to prevail. Cheap for the council, easy to understand, no bottlenecks, companies can opt in or out. More cities should try this.

To mention the Spanish and Italian way: there are public toilets, some on the street (not that many, mostly near playgrounds), most in public buildings, rail and bus stations and the like. They are always free to use. Condition can be from very good to very poor, depends on the area and who looks after the toilets, mostly.

Aside from that, every place serving drinks or foods with the possibility to eat in the premises must have fully equipped toilets, and those are usually in good condition, so what most people do is walk into a bar or restaurant and use those. Some people just ask if it's OK to use the toilet, others will buy an espresso or bottle of water. Personally I ask and then pay for someone else's coffee or tip the barman, but I'm neither Spanish or Italian. Paid toilets are unknown there and would be seen with hostility. Toilets at shopping centres and motorway stops can always be used freely. Petrol stations and underground car parks also tend to have toilets that one can use, sometimes you have to ask for the key.

In France, it is mostly the same except that bar/restaurant toilets tend to be, let us say, a character building experience and being a different culture, the "let me use the toilet and I'll buy a bottle of water from you" thing does not quite work (apart from the water being at least €2.-) There are, however, a lot more public toilets, often the self-cleaning type (the French are big on automation, due to their awkward labour laws), and best of all, the "pissoirs" (from "pisser": to piss). There aren't many left, but you can still see them in some villages and small towns.

Some pics and history here: http://untappedcities.com/2010/07/08/i-need-to-pee-public-to... (also shows the newer automatic toilets), and a bit of an extreme and not completely serious example here: http://www.pwfg.de/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/open-air-pisso...

> http://www.pwfg.de/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/open-air-pisso...

In case anyone wonders about the hose, that's for people of North African or Middle Eastern origin who in addition to or instead of toilet paper, prefer to use water and their (conventionally, left) hand to clean up after full relief--a method which in fact does a far better job than smearing it all over one's arse cheeks.

The public toilet 'problem' (in that public toilets must be bad) isn't really a thing as any mall can seem to handle this issue.

When I went to Germany I was amazed at how bad their toilets were and I often had to pay to use them.

A toilet in a mall is not considered public (= state-owned) in context of this article. The latter are usually really dirty and not nice to use.

I think the point is that many malls have toilets completely open to the public (no payment to keep out "undesirables") and manages to keep them nice and clean.

I would guess that it's because the confined space of a mall makes this this efficient to staff.

Firstly, there are multiple toilets within a relatively small area, so one cleaning team can service multiple toilets. Secondly, the small area of a mall minimises travel time (wastage) between toilets. Thirdly, in places where keeping the toilets clean doesn't take enough time to keep the cleaners occupied full-time, there are other general cleaning tasks to occupy them.

It's also worth considering the deterrent effect of footfall and supervision: if the toilets are used frequently, and checked/cleaned frequently, people are less likely to carry out wanton acts of vandalism, for fear of getting caught.

If you take the example of a city with public toilets on the streets, either each toilet has to be staffed, which would generally be expensive/inefficient, as each toilet wouldn't require a full-time cleaner, or you would need a cleaning team to travel from toilet to toilet, spending time stuck in traffic, looking for a parking space, etc.

Malls have their own private security force to keep out the undesirables.

Malls are generally private property and have security that stops some people from entering.

If you look like the people who piss on Market St, I don't think you'd make it through the door at Westfield.

Santa Cruz, California has been doing this for a few years. It mostly works well but those bathrooms get trashed.

Yes I was wondering how this would work in San Francisco. There is a large mental illness and drug abuse problem, many who suffer from these issues find it very difficult to leave a bathroom in at least a semi-decent state. Does the city maybe wind up paying enough to the businesses so they hire someone to keep the restroom clean?

I think you'll find that mentally ill people are treated differently in Europe, that would be a necessary first step of your want to do something similar in sf.

Yes I spend a couple of months every year in Europe so I'm aware. The thing is health care is better, drug abuse (not use, but abuse) seems lower and also society has less tolerance for acting out. I've got a lot of mental illness issues in my family, so I hopefully can say this without sounding rude. But a lot of people dealing with mental episodes can to some extent moderate their behaviour. Not that it's easy, but the ability is there. However particularly in SF we are very tolerant, maybe to the point of causing more harm than good. So then some people just indulge in their every impulse including engaging in poor sanitary habits.

The low cost for healthcare usually helps, in addition to the social net. A social democracy surely has it's benefits. *Not to be going into a political debate here.

While I agree that SF has a much larger drug abuse / mental illness problem, that problem exists in Berlin as well - even with the better health care system and unemployment benefits.

One thing to keep in mind when comparing homelessness in Berlin and SF is the clima. I don't know how much it contributes but homeless people in Berlin risk to freeze to dead. So I could imaging homeless people prefering warmer cities.

As if homeless people had a choice to become homeless or not.

People don't usually have a choice about becoming homeless, but their environment will affect how they respond to their homelessness. It's a cliché that some homeless people in America will choose to travel to California or Florida for the warmer climate (whether that's true or not I have no idea - would be interested in seeing data on that subject).

If someone becomes homeless in a place where homelessness has a significantly increased risk of death (such as freezing to death in Berlin), then either they move away, they engage with local support services, or they carry on as they are, risking death (and some of them will die as a result). Either way, the effect is a reduction in the number of homeless people at that location.

Thankfully a lot of places recognise some of the risks and try to address them. In the UK, many cities have a cold-weather response: when the temperature drops below Xº, additional shelters are opened, and street-teams look for people sleeping rough and guide them towards the shelters.

Well, at least in Germany there's virtually no homelessness due to a lack of resources. The government has to provide sufficient housing. The reasons for homelessness around here are most of the time different ones than "can't afford to pay rent". In many cases mental health issues and bureaucratic hurdles which might be too high to tackle for those stuck in a difficult situation. It's mostly down to having Street Workers which are able to connect to those people and help them doing the first steps into the right direction.

The post toilets in Germany typically have somebody sitting there, constantly cleaning the toilets.

Los Angeles has a large homeless population, and, if this sounds unfair, well I apologize, but, a significant fraction of LA's homeless people smell bad. I'm not trying to criticize homeless people and I'm sure there are good reasons for that fact such as lack of bathing facilities and access to clean clothing.

If LA had a program paying cafes and restaurants a monthly fee to allow the general population (which would have to include the homeless) to use their restrooms, I predict that the vast majority of businesses would not participate. A restaurant owner would simply not want a smelly person parading through their dining space to get to the restroom.

In short, I don't see a way to make this work in Los Angeles.

The city of Santa Cruz, California has a similar program: http://cityofsantacruz.com/departments/economic-development/...

The main downside is that the bathrooms are only open when the businesses are open. That means folks living on the streets still don't have access to toilets for a big chunk of the day.

Last time I was in Germany (2015) I had to pay 50pf to the little emperor who ran the toilet in the Paderborn train station; I didn't see the sign about paying (it was blocked by the open door) and he basically attacked me as I walked out. Not sure how this is a wonderful solution. I also remember a European airline wanting to charge people to use the toilet on their planes.

Should be mentioned Paris' automatically cleaning toilets. They are definitely slow and not great when there is a lot of people needing them, but for an otherwise rather dirty city, damned if they are not cleaner and more convenient than what I've seen most other places.

These are supremely confusing if you have never encountered one before... Thankfully, a helpful French man was able to explain the situation to me before I tried to enter one as it was starting it's wash cycle.

German here. I have never heard of this programm, nor does it seem that big cities like Hamburg, Frankfurt or Munich are part of it.

It looks like a nice thing, but the headline is a little misleading, its not in "all German cities", just some.

Munich is actually joining the program from 2017 on. Bremen already is in it.

So, it's actually not that misleading.

As a German, every time I travel to any other country I am impressed how many public toilets there are and the good state they are in.

Or you could just mandate all toilets to be open to the public. Like, for example, in Israel.


We detached this flagged subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12998325.

> It is fine to force 70 year old pensioners to clean toilets

No one forces these 70 years olds to work there. I honestly believe that the people who do are happy to be able to earn some money (because they may not find a "better" job).

In Germany no one is really forced to accept a job because of the reasonable good-enough social benefits / welfare systems (not saying that you can live a good life with it though).

Anyway, you probably didn't want to discuss a real issue but rather spread your, umh, questionable ideas about the "army" of immigrants. :-/

I'm not familiar with German Welfare but in the UK we have means tested welfare. It is a wicked poverty trap

If you earn £1 you lose £1 of welfare.

So if you want to do a hour a day of toilet maintenance you need either a very strong sense of community or another income.

One of the reasons a Negative Income Tax might work better than means tested benefits


In Germany it is not entirely 1:1. If you receive Hartz4 unemployment (€404) and have a so called €450-minijob (which is the cutoff for social security taxes etc), then €170 are additional income and €280 are offset with you unemployment, giving you €574 overall.

At least that's how I understood the mechanics just now, having never been forced to actually understand them.

One of the reasons you find the elderly employed doing small jobs in places like Japan and South Korea is that there is very little social safety net. The system is setup to assume that the elderly will simply live at home with their adult children. They usually receive a very small pension of some sort and various other discounts on public services (subsidized mass transit for example).

However, if they don't find themselves in a situation where they can live at home with their children, there's very little alternative for them.

70 year olds who don't have enough money to retire and can't find a better job are forced to work there.

Retirement age in Japan and Germany is around 65 years. Not everyone qualifies for social benefits (owns house, work history...). And regions like Bavaria are bloody expensive. So yes, some pensioners have to work even in Germany (but it was about Japan in reference to old people).

I would be happy to discus my "questionable ideas". I live in Athens and I actually tried to hire some of them for manual labor. Most of them had better shoes than me, were lazy as fuck, and all want to go to Germany.

To start a discussion, please post employment rates among migrants ;-)

In Germany you receive welfare no matter of your work history. True, you need to sell your assets, like your house, but I think that's understandable. Your 65 year old retiree would receive ~410€/mo. + costs for an apartment (incl. heating etc). Again, I'm not at all saying that makes a decent living. Just that no one is really FORCED to work there.

Greece has a 25% unemployment rate. Therefore if you did not find anyone wanting to do your job, it must have been a really bad one. Or - my guess - you just didn't offered to pay a reasonable amount.

I don't know the exact employment rate among migrants, but I guess it makes no sense to discuss it here. I'm just sure that, if the unemployment rate amongst the migrants would be low, you were crying about the bad migrants taking over our jobs.

But I found workers, we employ mostly Albanians, some Greeks and one Pakistani who is here for 10 years. It is manual labor in warehouse. But I would expect more interest from "poor refugees who barely escaped the war".

Anyway this discussion is pointless.

> But I would expect more interest from "poor refugees who barely escaped the war".

Oh ok, you're definitely just repeating extreme right-wing propaganda now. Thanks for clarifying that.

"poor refugees" is left-wing propaganda. Right-wind is anti-islam, terrorists...

In half of OECD countries, including the UK, the employment rate is higher among migrant men than among native-born men:


> but it is not ok to do that to young healthy men

It is not OK at all to force someone to work. And especially not if all you offer to refugees is menial cleaning work.

That's a highly racist opinion you have, and IMO you deserve the downvotes.

Is it more or less ok to let someone starve? ( do they still get handouts if they could have a job if they wanted to work, but they just felt the work beneath them? )

Having people contribute to society that feeds and houses them is extremely racist - who knew ?

"Diversity society will fail" --Putnam; http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/05/t...

This account has been posting a lot of unsubstantive comments, but this one is right out of nowhere. Please stop.

"The Germans have figured out a cheap way to provide the public with bathrooms."

Aren't the bathrooms the places where somebody can bathe?

It's a euphemism.

English seems to have an extraordinary number of euphemisms for "that room":

Bathroom. Restroom. Water Closet. Loo. Bog. Khazi. John. Privy.

I wonder if other languages have such an array of words for a toilet, and how much confusion they cause for foreigners.

"Bathroom" and "restroom" are only used in American English. In other English-speaking countries, a bathroom contains a bath, and a restroom sounds like somewhere to go if you're tired.

"Toilet" is also a euphemism, it's Middle French for a type of cloth.

So is "lavatory", it means wash room.

I can't think of a word that isn't vulgar or a euphemism.

"Toilet" is not a euphemism:

"Toilet" was by etymology a euphemism, but is no longer understood as such. As old euphemisms have become the standard term, they have been progressively replaced by newer ones, an example of the euphemism treadmill at work.


"Crapper" is not a euphemism. It's the name of the man who invented the siphonic flush toilet:


You forgot:

Washroom. Lavatory. Outhouse. Mens' room. Little girls' room room. Potty. Half bath. And many more (mostly NSFHN).

I suspect there's a deep reason for all the different words, probably because of the basic nature of what goes on within such rooms. I wouldn't be surprised if other languages have the same profusion of synonyms.

> I wonder if other languages have such an array of words for a toilet, and how much confusion they cause for foreigners.

Let me try in Spanish: servicio, baño, excusado, w.c, mingitorio, tigre (this is slang)

Do you think our culture is going to be uplifted somehow if we all switch to calling it "the shitter"?

In Portuguese, "banheiro" uses the exact same euphemism as bathrooms.

How can you then refer to the rooms that actually have something where then somebody can take a bath?

I'm serious, not a native speaker.

You'd say shower or bath. Truck stops often advertise "showers" for instance.

Even better, the showers will sometimes be free, on the condition that you buy so-and-so many gallons of diesel, or eat a meal at the restaurant.

If you're in public and ask for a bathroom, it's assumed that you are looking for a toilet and not looking for a bath. I have never had to ask for a place with a bath in public - if I need a bath then I'm at a house or a hotel where I can find it.

>How can you then refer to the rooms that actually have something where then somebody can take a bath?

Brace yourself: in the US and from what I've seen of the UK, the toilet and the shower are in the same room.

Interesting. In my part of the world a bathroom must contain either a shower or a bathtub and a toilet (or a WC) must contain a toilet bowl. In the article the word toilet was used in the title, switching to the "bathroom" in the text was confusing.

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