Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Spending a Penny...(or 20)

Much ado in the local paper regarding Centro's decision to start charging 20p to visit the loos in Walsall bus station. Local Councillors are gritting their teeth (and possibly crossing their legs) over the issue, but what about the wider implications of this?
I recall as a young child going on holiday to Germany. Stopping en route in Belgium, I was amazed at the prospect of having to pay a few coins to what always seemed to be an elderly lady to gain access to the loos. Ditto in Deutschland. It seems to have been the norm across the continent to spend a few pennies to spend a penny.
It's not unheard of over here. I've been coughing up at Birmingham New St and London Euston railway stations for an awful long time (and didn't New St go from 20p to 30p in one go a couple of years ago?) Bizarrely, I did start to pay in London Marylebone, but haven't for ages. I think paying is also the norm at Digbeth (sorry, Birmingham) Coach Station as well as London Victoria. But I don't think I've ever paid at an airport.
The new bus station and Interchange facilities at Wolverhampton and Stourbridge, provided by Centro, also attract a charge (20p) - and this would appear to be a new standard directive across all Centro bus stations in time (according to the local paper).
Amongst the howls of derision is the sentiment that we shouldn't be paying for something that used to be free. Shouldn't we be allowed to "do what we have to do" without forking out for it? If someone uses the new £80,000 (gold-plated?) loos in Walsall bus station 5 days per week, that's £4 per month on average.
But here's the other side of the coin.
If we get the attendant-based quality and security that I've seen across the Continent, it's money well spent in my view.
I've spent many hours in bus stations (as you can imagine!) and some of the "facilities" are truly horrific. The ones where you have to pay a small charge seem much better maintained, and, ultimately, are usable. As a comparison, Dudley bus station's Gents is nothing short of disgraceful and has been for many years. If 20p a visit improves that significantly, I'm happy to pay.
Why shouldn't the Council, or Centro, or whoever, pay to upgrade and maintain these facilities, I hear you cry. Well, of course they should. But they should also be doing a million and one other things, and with ever-decreasing funds to do it with, there are hard choices.
I'm always banging on about the whole public transport experience from start to finish. And that includes the toilets at stations. In an ideal world, they should be spick and span - and free. But we don't live in an ideal world, and finance is tight. But we, as passengers, DO deserve a quality facility and experience when we use public transport.
And if 20p a visit helps to achieve that, I'm happy to chip in.

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