Businesses opening their toilets up for public use might boost trade but also risk attracting drug users and other undesirables, café owners say.
It follows the release of a City of Sydney plan encouraging retailers, cafés and other businesses to adopt an “open door policy” to increase the availability of toilets in central Sydney.
The measure forms part of the council’s first ever public toilet strategy, which would also provide public toilets at least every 400 metres in the central business district, pop-up urinals, more frequent cleaning and the replacement of old-style blocks with new facilities.
The council says the voluntary business program, called “City Cares”, would give retailers, cafés and other vendors the chance to increase trade and contribute to the “public good”.
But the owner of Chippendale’s Café Giulia, Stefan Stavropoulos, said the scheme would be open to abuse by “junkies potentially coming in off the street”, adding the council was “shifting the management of toilets into private hands”.
He said small cafés might suffer in instances where “to get [to the toilet] you need to walk through the front area, then past the kitchen and then to the toilet”.
A Glebe café owner, who did not wish to be named, agreed the program would attract undesirables.
“It just wouldn’t work, you would get needles and injections and all the rubbish that comes with that. It’s out of the question,” he said.
Aiwen Zhang, who works at a Glebe café, said it would create more work for staff and might inconvenience paying customers waiting to use the facilities.
But Keno Hernandez, owner of 24-hour Kings Cross business Café Hernandez, would welcome the program because “[the public] are more likely to spend some money next time they are passing by”.
Tristan Cox of Don Campos Café in Alexandria said visitors ‘‘might grab a quick coffee or muffin’’ particularly if they felt ‘‘guilty’’ about not buying something.
Wenjai Cao of Glebe’s Café Otto supported the scheme, saying “when there is increased public access that is a good thing … we allow people to use our toilet and it is not really a burden”.
Under similar ‘‘community toilet’’ schemes in the United Kingdom, businesses allow the public to use their facilities and receive an annual payment to cover their costs.
A City of Sydney spokesman said in the London borough of Richmond, 97 businesses have signed up to such a scheme and display signs advising the public they can use the facilities.
The proposed scheme would be “purely voluntary” and would occur only after discussion with businesses, he said.
“Pop-up” urinals that rise from the ground, similar to those in Europe and Canada, would be deployed in the George Street and Kings Cross entertainment precincts at peak times. The devices would replace portable urinals, and are designed to decrease the rates of public urination.
Automated, unisex, self-cleaning toilets would be built at nine centres including Newtown, Redfern, Erskineville, Haymarket and Paddington.
The units cost up to $340,000 each and are not without controversy. The New York Times reported that in Seattle in 2008, officials scrapped five automated public toilets because they had become filthy and overrun with drug abusers and prostitutes, to the point that “even some of the city’s most destitute people refused to step inside them”.
Respondents to a City of Sydney survey also reported problems with the reliability of existing automated toilets.
However the feedback also showed an even split between those who liked and disliked them, and the units are inspected daily.
The survey also found public toilets should be easier to find, with extended opening hours and better servicing.
There are presently 117 public toilet locations in the council area, including those at shopping centres such as the Queen Victoria Building which attract about 1500 visits a day.
The strategy said a lack of toilet facilities can cause “significant inconvenience” to families with children, seniors groups and people with a disability or health problems. It said providing public toilets contributes to the city’s ‘‘liveability’’ and public toilets should be well designed, robust and “inviting”.
The draft strategy will be considered by the council this month and released for public comment.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.