Flushing Inequality (May 2016)

A research project to assess the quality of Ottawa municipally-funded toilets called Flushing Inequality has found them sadly lacking.

Despite being the nation’s capital, Flushing Inequality is the first systematic examination of the availability, accessibility and quality of public toilets in Ottawa.

Using feedback from an advisory committee of community members, the researchers created a comprehensive visual assessment tool to assess the availability, accessibility and quality criteria of a sample of 92 public toilets owned, operated and maintained by the City of Ottawa. (almost 1/2 of the “public-facing” toilets the City operates). The surveys were conducted between December 2015 and February 2016 by a team of five graduate social work students.

To ensure consistency of responses, the research team visited all facilities in pairs during standard hours of operation, Monday to Saturday between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm.

KEY FINDINGS OF THE STUDY

  • While 82% of public toilets in the City of Ottawa are equipped with sanitary waste disposal units, only 4% are equipped with biohazard waste disposal units.
  • 63% of public toilets in the City of Ottawa deemed to be “wheelchair accessible” pose at least one accessibility barrier to service users with mobility challenges.
  • Only 21% of public toilets in the City of Ottawa are equipped with a gender neutral or family facility
  • Although assessed during standard operating hours on weekends and weekdays, at time of survey, 45% of the City of Ottawa public toilets were unavailable for access, either due to seasonal or daily closures.
  • Among public toilets located within 100 metres of a transit stop, 25% of these public toilets were closed to the public at the time of survey.
  • 85% of public toilets lacked signage outside of the facility to indicate presence of a public toilet.

From the point of view of GottaGo! the study makes it very clear that the city needs more and better public toilets with clear directional signage, and it needs them NOW.  Call or write your Councillor and let him/her know that the situation has to change.

Flushing Inequality – full report

Flushing inequality executive summary

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Update- mapping public toilets in Ottawa

The City has released the data on municipally-owned toilets in Ottawa.

There are 190 listed for the whole region. Many are open only for a few weeks in the summer or only during program hours; there are no adult changing stations and only a few baby-changing washrooms. The categorizing of “accessibility” is on a scale of 1-3, with no indication of what this means.

Most of the toilets are in community buildings.

Currently, there is a team of students from Carleton University’s Masters of Social Work program “ground-truthing” these City washrooms. Working with a sample of 100 of the City’s toilets (more than half as it turns out), they are investigating the toilets’ actual conditions, availability, locations and accessibility. Standby for the results sometime in April.

A real-time up-to-the minute map of the sites has been created by Kevin O’Donnell at http://ottpee.ca

The open data can be accessed here: http://data.ottawa.ca/dataset/publicwashrooms. Other apps and maps are more than welcome!

 

Update – January 2016

In December 2015, City Council – exhausted by extensive and contentious budget debates – delegated their authority to the Mayor, the City Manager and the Chair of the Transit Commission to make the decision on what kind of toilets would be installed at the Bayview and Hurdman LRT stations, including revisiting pay for use.  All necessary decisions can now be made by this tiny group. Only if the recommendation is pay-for-use will it go back to City Council for a decision.

The actual motion states:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT City Council delegate the authority to the Mayor, Chair of the Transit Commission, and the City Manager to evaluate the options for the installation of public washrooms at the Bayview and Hurdman Stations and approve an alternative to the proposal in the Stage 1 and Stage 2 of  Light Rail Transit (LRT) – Provision of Public Washrooms report (ACS2015-CMR-OCM-0031) report that reduces the capital and operating costs to the greatest extent possible while maintaining the location within the fare paid zone, as described in this motion; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that City Council delegate the authority to the City Manager to undertake all necessary actions to implement the decisions made as part of this process, in consultation with the City Solicitor, including whether to implement a user pay option and the potential social impacts of such an option, and report back to Committee and Council on the exercise of this delegated authority on the understanding that, should the user pay option be recommended, the recommendation would be presented to City Council for final approval.

We understand that the city is currently collecting the data and constructing the municipally funded public toilet app.

GottaGo! is continuing to try to track these developments and to press for the extensive network of toilets that we want: including more access to existing business and public toilets, signage and changes to public policy.

Today’s Ottawa Citizen carries an excellent column by Adam Feibel, Public toilets are a public good and should be publicly funded 

Mayor pushes for pay to pee in LRT

At the City Council FEDCO meeting on December 1, the staff report on toilets for the LRT stations was received. It said that the “upset limit” for the toilets at Bayview and Hurdman stations would be $2.05 million to build them; that the toilets would have estimated “lifecycle costs” of $224, 400 and maintenance costs of $13,000/month. They would be built, managed and maintained by the RTG group (the LRT contractor).

The FEDCO Committee has now sent the report back to staff and asked them to report on pay-to-pee options and automated public toilet options by December 9.

The report provided no justification or comparison information for these figures whatsoever. We have seen publicly- available reports for other cities on public toilet provision, that provide masses of useful information and analysis. This is not one of them. We demand that the background work for the staff report be made public.

We think the costs are over-blown, and probably include penalties for varying the contract with the RTG group. We have heard that the variation penalty is $1 million or more, although we have been unable to get this information from the City.

GottaGo! thinks that public toilets should be supported by taxpayers as a necessary public good. Fee-for-service  for a necessity of life is an unjust form of tax that falls most heavily on the impoverished and those who need the service the most. Increasing transit fares (some of the highest in Canada) are already prohibitive for many people in this City.

However, if the only way we can get toilets in the LRT stations is through a user-pay program, then this is better than no toilets at all. At least once they are built, we have the option of lobbying to get the fee removed.

Call your Councillor. So far the news polls are running about 65-70% against charging for toilet use.

Stories about this issue can be found at:

CBC Ottawa Morning. December 2, 2015

CBC News, December 1, 2015. Ottawa Reacts to Paid Public Bathrooms at LRT Stations

Ottawa Citizen, December 1, 2015. Joanne Laucius. Pay as you go? Mayor wants report on pay toilets before approving LRT wshroom funding.

Ottawa Sun. December 1, 2015. Jon Willing. Pay-and-go Potty Plan considered for LRT.

Metro News. December 2, 2015. Pay-to-Pee? City Considers Coin-Operated LRT Washrooms.

Ottawa Sun. December 2, 2015.  guest column by Joan Kuyek. It Should be Free to Pee at LRT

City Council Debates 2016 Budget

We need your help to make sure a network of public toilets is still top-of-mind for our Ottawa City Councillors as they debate the budget for next year.  Meetings started on November 17 and continue until December 7.  Call your Councillor to make your views known.

Our requests are in jeopardy because of the Mayor’s promise to limit tax increases to 2%, a situation that means we are competing with many other worthy initiatives. This should not be the case.

The people of Ottawa want and need good infrastructure, good parks and recreational opportunities, and transportation, housing, food security and education that are available for all. We know that costs money but, what the City does not provide,  we will end up paying for with our time and our own resources. We already see a City that is increasingly unavailable for those without financial means and this affects the quality of life for everyone.

A great capital city has great public toilets.

City Council moves on GottaGo! priorities

On July 8, 2015, Ottawa City Council voted unanimously to ensure that there would be public toilets in the Bayview and Hurdman stations on the new Confederation Line. City staff were instructed to find the means to make this possible.

On September 2, 2015, the City’s powerful FEDCO Committee voted on the June 25 recommendation from the Information Technology Sub-Committee to develop an app showing the location, hours of operation and amenities at City-supported toilets (in parks, libraries, etc.)

The LRT motion – moved by Councillor McKenney and Councillor Nussbaum – reads:

WHEREAS the planning and construction of the O-Train’s Confederation Light Rail Transit Project Phase 1 is currently underway ; and WHEREAS tens of thousands of residents are expected to travel  daily on LRT throughout the city, thereby reducing congestion; and
WHERE AS Bayview Station and Hurdman Station are the two key transfer points on the new Confederation Line; WHEREAS public washroom facilities have been shown to increase  activity and advance equitable participation in society for all  demographic groups;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT City Council approve that Strategic Initiative 4 –Completion of the O-Train’s Confederation Light Rail Transit Projects (p. 19 of Appendix A) be amended to include the planning and construction of accessible, integrated public washrooms within the fare -gated areas of the Bayview and Hurdman stations, to be funded from the LRT project contingency budget or another budget source as recommended by staff, including private sector options; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT staff be directed to develop options for the provision of public washrooms within the fare -gated areas of these two stations for decision by the Finance and Economic Development Committee and Council before the end of Q4
2015.

Through a friendly amendment, staff are further directed to:
 also provide information with respect to incorporating public washrooms in the Stage 2 LRT stations.

Home – GottaGo!

The “GottaGo!” campaign aims to create a network of safe, free, clean and environmentally responsible public toilets and water fountains that are accessible to persons of all abilities in parks, major transit stops and key public places to meet the needs of residents and tourists in Canada’s Capital City.

Why we need a network of public toilets

In a city such as Ottawa the needs of tourists, outdoor activities of families, an aging population and people with disabilities, and the need to ensure effective public health combine to demonstrate that a network of safe, clean, accessible and environmentally responsible public toilets are essential. There are effective public toilet programs in other capitals like Tokyo, Paris, London, Christchurch and Seoul. Which of us has not been caught short by our need for a toilet? The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation surveyed their members and donors in 2010 only to find that more than 75% of them had been humiliated in this way.

What parent has not had their child urinate or defecate behind a tree in a park? Which pregnant woman, tourist, bus user, cyclist or jogger has not had moments where they worry about getting to a facility in time? Although Ottawa does have public restrooms in large parks, their hours do not accommodate need. Transit stations do not have public toilets and there are no plans for toilets in the new LRT stations (except at the end of the line). People with urgent needs, such as colitis and celiac sufferers, are held captive in their homes and cars. In the city core, where bars and restaurants are located, people urinate after hours in laneways and buildings, and restaurant and bar owners fret about non-paying customers using their washrooms.  Tourists from Asia and Europe are shocked by the lack of public toilets. Available toilets that are accessible to people of all abilities are a public health issue, a disability issue, a tourism issue and a key to sustainable cities and complete streets. The current situation is unacceptable in a capital city.

The proposal

GottaGo! proposes that the City of Ottawa & National Capital Commission:

  • Ensure that open, clean public toilets and water fountains accessible to people of all abilities are installed in the proposed LRT stations and the Park & Rides
  • Invest in signage, appropriate hours, staffing, improvements and maintenance for existing public toilets to bring them to a standard fitting to a national capital
  • Provide subsidies to private businesses in key locations in return for improvements to their toilet facilities, open access, oversight and signage
  • Add at least one 24/7 unisex, direct access facility accessible to persons of all abilities to public buildings in high traffic areas. Invest in at least two adult “changing stations” for users with severe disabilities.
  • Require new developments in key areas to provide for unisex street-access toilets accessible to persons of all abilities as part of their permitting.
  • Build/install new architecturally beautiful public toilets where required.

Dealing with concerns for safety, security and sanitation

The Ottawa Police Service agrees that toilets located in public or commercial settings can be inclusive and safe environments. They can be facilities that patrons feel confident to use, are easy to maintain, and are resource efficient. Design choices can be made that allow for easy cleaning and management, resistance to vandalism, and low maintenance requirements. Other capital cities can do this, why can’t Ottawa? The increased staff required to maintain these toilets in a pristine condition could be a key employment generator. Advertising on the toilets can help defray costs.

“Public toilets represent society’s finest aspirations about responsible civil behaviour. A great city has great public toilets” (Bridgeman).