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July 30, 2012

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Home » Metro » Public Services

Public toilets too few, far between

WANG Qiaomei, a 49-year-old female cabbie, agonizes over the city's shortage of public toilets, particularly women's cubicles. She had to undergo surgery on her fallopian tubes once, partly triggered by failing to find a toilet when she desperately needed one.

"Public toilets in the city are far from plentiful, and I suffer a lot from it," she complained.

Wang has driven a taxi for Dazhong Taxi Co, one of the leading operators in Shanghai, for more than 10 years. She said the situation is even worse in suburban areas. Finding a parking place near public restrooms is often difficult, and most toilets close about 9pm or 10pm, which is hard for a taxi driver whose shift ends at 1am. Wang said she often is forced to resort to gas stations, but many of them don't open facilities for women to save cost.

Taxi drivers are far from the only ones who suffer from lack of amenities in a city of 23 million people and only 2,800 public toilets. In some popular Shanghai tourist spots, long queues form for public restrooms.

Bund toilets far apart

The Bund, for example, has only five public toilets, and the distance between each is about 400 meters. The riverfront area gets about 500,000 visitors on a normal day and up to 1 million tourists a day during holidays.

There are no department stores or other buildings along that stretch of the Huangpu River where people desperate to relieve themselves can go.

At 9:20pm on a Sunday night, Shu Wen, a male bank employee, stood waiting outside one of the public toilets along the Bund. There were long queues at the females' toilets as well.

"I did not expect to wait so long time for a men's toilet," he said with some irritation.

A cleaner in front of the toilet facilities at 225 Zhongshan Road E1, one of the biggest public restrooms with 11 female cubicles, said she has seen as many as 40 women queuing up outside on weekend evenings.

No new toilets have been added in the area for years.

At Xiangyang Park in Xuhui District, some men resort to flower beds nearby to relieve themselves because public toilets there close at 7pm. The reek of urine fills the air.

Some downtown streets have no public toilets at all. That's the case along Sichuan Road N. in Hongkou District, where people have to use restrooms in department stores or restaurants along the busy commercial street.

The situation is worse on the city's outskirts.

"When people start seeing farmland, it is a sign that it will be hard to find toilets," taxi driver Shen Qiang joked. He lives in Fengxian District.

Shen said he frequently uses toilets at gas stations, and many male colleagues simply find a secluded spot to urinate.

Municipal authorities said it's no easy job to remedy the situation, but efforts are underway.

"Due to the scarcity of land in downtown areas, particularly in the city's heart, there is no space to build new toilets," the Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau replied in written form to questions posed by Shanghai Daily.

The bureau said the city has set a target of one public toilet facility every 250 meters in downtown areas and no less than three toilets per square kilometer in other areas by the end of 2015. It said it plans to add 100 toilet facilities in the next three years.

Part of the plan relies on requiring the installation of public restrooms when redeveloping old communities.

More women's facilities

The bureau is also adjusting the ratio of male to female cubicles to 1 to 2 or 1 to 3. A ratio of 1 to 2.5 at the Shanghai Expo site proved satisfactory, the bureau said.

"In some older urban areas of Shanghai, the ratio of women's cubicles is extremely low, and we are gradually taking measures to redress the problem," it said.

Complaints about public toilet facilities don't end with numbers. Cabbie Wang said many public restrooms have bad signage. She recalled once seeing a signpost the Changning District saying toilets were available 50 meters away, but try as she might, she couldn't find them anywhere. Last year, the bureau issued a notice that signage would be updated.

There are also complaints about the deplorable state of some public restrooms. Bureau officials admitted that toilet maintenance has been difficult.

The cost of utilities, cleaning and repair is rising faster than the government subsidies that pay for them. Jing'an District authorities said the water bill for its public toilets alone has increased by 33 percent.

Some people brush their teeth, and wash their faces and even clothing in restrooms, leaving a mess. Some even steal hand sanitizers, the bureau said.


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