Why is it so hard to find a public bathroom in the U.S.?

“360” shows you different perspectives on the top stories and conversations of the day.

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What is happening

We’ve all been there. You need to go to the bathroom, or maybe your child does. You try one business after another. You end up buying an ice cream cone at a grungy gas station so they give you a code.

Public pot panic is a common human experience, but it’s a problem that Americans deal with far more often than people in other countries.

By , there are about eight public toilets for every 100,000 Americans. That’s less than half the amount in Canada and one-seventh the amount in Iceland. The toilets are in many major cities in the United States.

Using the bathroom is more than providing a convenient place to pee. It is also a especially in places where there are many homeless people. San Diego has dealt with two separate ones which is at least partly due to the lack of clean bathrooms. There are also possibilities for anyone who has to relieve themselves in public places.

The United States has not always been so devoid of public toilets. In 1970 there was an estimate anywhere in the country that anyone can use for a small fee. But those coin operated toilets over the next decade in response to a campaign against the idea that anyone should pay for their bodily needs. The problem in many cases is that nothing came to replace them.

Why is there a discussion?

At a basic level, the lack of public toilets is because most cities do not prioritize them.

One of the biggest obstacles is the price. As with many infrastructure projects, the construction of Bathrooms in the United States than in other countries. And there are ongoing janitorial costs to keep the facilities furnished and sanitary. Some cities also have difficulty finding investment locations, often a combination of these and the opposition of residents of nearby areas who feared that the facilities would become dirty, stop working or bring unwanted activities to the area.

Many experts say the roots of the problem go much deeper and are really the result of how American society has outsourced core services to the private sector. (Maybe your local Starbucks or McDonalds.)

What next

Several , and have recently launched initiatives to install more toilets in their public spaces – calls its new toilets “Philly Phlush.” However, it remains to be seen whether these new projects will be able to overcome the many challenges posed by the previous plans .


Americans have lost faith in the common good

“The lack of public restrooms in the United States is not just a nuisance. It is a sign of America’s failure to invest in community needs for the common good. – Katrina Vanden Heuvel,

It was a big mistake to get rid of pay toilets

“It may seem cruel to get people to give money to something that our bodies force us to do several times a day. But we don’t expect farmers or supermarkets to give us food for free. If we did, we would soon have grass and bark. Price controls invariably keep supply below demand, and setting a zero price cap does that little by little.” – Steve Chapman,

Municipalities have outsourced their tasks to private companies

“The urgent (and I mean urgent) need to install decent public spaces in every park or every fifth street corner, as a modern city should, has been pushed off the agenda again and again for the simple reason that we let Starbucks and its corporate relatives worry about it.” – Christopher Bonanos,

Crime and loitering mean that many public toilets are basically unusable for most people

“The real problem with adding public toilets to city centers today is not a lack of funding, but a class of civic leadership that doesn’t want to get involved in blatantly anti-social and often criminal activity. If every city got on board with this, it wouldn’t take a lot of money to start major improvements in the public realm like public toilets .—Aaron M. Renn,

It’s just too expensive to build something that simple in the US

“Not a bad idea all in all. It’s nice to have a restroom available when you’re in the park, especially when you’re there with kids. Every parent knows what I’m talking about. But then you realize that each restroom can end up costing the city taxpayers (that’s me and you) a million dollar.” – Tom Wrobleski,

Public toilets would be clean and safe if we gave vulnerable people other places to go

“One way to get rid of drug use and vandalism in public restrooms is to build a much larger infrastructure to support people experiencing homelessness and safe injection sites. … To get public bathrooms back, we have to be willing to create more space for those who suffer.” – Quinn O’Callaghan,

Many Americans do not value bathroom access as a basic…

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