In Africa, pay toilets are particularly common in informal settlements lacking sewage systems. Of all countries, Ghana has the greatest reliance on public toilets. In Accra, lack of space makes private toilets unrealistic in low-income neighbourhoods. In Kumasi, it has been estimated that 36% of residents use pay toilets, and that “once-daily use of a public toilet by a family of four would cost between US$3.60 and $18 per month depending on the fee charged by the operator of the toilet they use.”
People on low incomes, for instance in Accra, often choose to defecate in the open rather than pay to use toilets. Or they may limit the number of times per day that they use a pay toilet. Thus pay toilets have damaging public health consequences.
Whether or not public toilets should require payment is a plot point in Noël Coward’s 1949 play South Sea Bubble.
Pay toilets are key to the 2001 American musical Urinetown.
In Germany, many lavatories at service stations on the Autobahn have pay toilets with turnstiles, though as in France, customers typically receive a voucher equal to the toilet fee. Elsewhere, while public toilets may not have a set fee, it is customary to provide change to restroom attendants for their services. Some service stations offer a voucher equal in value to the amount paid for use of a toilet, redeemable for other goods at that station or others in the same chain.
In Eastern Europe, particularly in the former USSR, pay toilets are usually non-automatic and are like usual public toilets except that they have an attendant at the entrance to collect the money from visitors.
In the United Kingdom, pay toilets tend to be common at bus and railway stations, but most public toilets are free to use. Technically, any toilets provided by local government may be subject to a charge by the provider. Pay toilets on the streets may provide men’s urinals free of charge to prevent public urination.
For example, in London, a few public conveniences are appearing in the form of pop-up toilets. During the daytime, these toilets are hidden beneath the streets, and only appear in the evening. The British English euphemism “to spend a penny” for “to urinate” derives from the use of a pre-decimal penny coin for pay toilet locks.
Some of the earliest documented pay toilets were built around 74 AD in Rome. Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus created this method to ease the financial hardships resulting from the many wars that had been fought.
The Greco-Roman city of Ephesus was important in ancient times, becoming the trade centre and commercial hub of the ancient world. The Scholastica Baths were built in the 1st century AD, and contained all of the modern amenities for hygiene, including advanced public toilets with marble seats.
John Nevil Maskelyne, an English stage magician, invented the first modern pay toilet in the late 19th century. His door lock for London toilets required the insertion of a penny coin to operate it, hence the euphemism to “spend a penny”.
The first pay toilet in the United States was installed in 1910 in Terre Haute, Indiana.
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- Peprah, Dorothy; Baker, Kelly K; Moe, Christine; Robb, Katharine; Wellington, Nii; Yakubu, Habib; Null, Clair (2022-10-01). “Public toilets and their customers in low-income Accra, Ghana”. Environment and Urbanization. 27 (2): 589–604. doi:10.1177/0956247815595918. ISSN 0956-2478. S2CID 153987969.
- Greenland, Katie; de-Witt Huberts, Jessica; Wright, Richard; Hawkes, Lisa; Ekor, Cyprian; Biran, Adam (2022-07-08). “A cross-sectional survey to assess household sanitation practices associated with uptake of ’Clean Team’ serviced home toilets in Kumasi, Ghana”(PDF). Environment and Urbanization. 28 (2): 583–598. doi:10.1177/0956247816647343. ISSN 0956-2478. S2CID 77012908.
- Langston, A. “The History Behind Pay As You Go Toilets”. Retrieved 23 May 2022.
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- Gruenstein, Peter (4 Sept 1975) Pay toilet movement attacks capitalism, The Beaver County Times, Retrieved October 19, 2022 (with sarcastic subtitle for 1975, “How about charging air for tires?”)