Thursday, October 14, 2010

Paying to Use a Restroom

If you have ever travelled in Europe, you have probably encountered the phenomenon of having to pay a nominal admission fee in order to use a restroom. Generally you are in some public place (bus station, airport, etc.), follow the signs to the bathroom, and are greeted with a woman (it always seems to be a woman) sitting behind a desk. You have to pay anywhere betwen .50€ and 1€. That alone is sort of strange at first, but you quickly see the advantages: Nowhere else in the world does a grimy bus terminal have nice bathrooms with a dedicated cleaning staff. Sometimes, however, there are strange variations on this theme.

In one of the train stations in Paris, this machine controls your entrance into the bathroom (via a turnstile). It costs .70€, doesn't give any change, and only accepts 10, 20 and 50 cent coins. Its sort of like something you would see on a bus or trolley, except instead of being in a hurry to sit down and let other people get on board, you are in a hurry to go to the bathroom and make it to your train.

Now, as an American (and someone who studied Economics), I can see the advantages of automating the bathroom admissions process so that they don't have to hire a "cashier." On the wall behind this terminal there were two out of order change machines. If you don't have the right change for this bathroom, just to the right of this picture is....a woman sitting behind a desk. She doesn't really have that much to do because of this machine, freeing her up to chat with the cleaning staff.

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