November 30, 2022

Metro Vancouver: Why Can’t We Just Have Public Washrooms?

Viewpoint Vancouver has continually written about the need for public washrooms as a basic need for everyone. It is also an equity issue and one of universal comfort.

Already some of the cracks are showing in transit facilities being  updated and designed which are not clearly showing that people will have a public place to go.

It just makes sense for transit to have public washrooms and for commercial areas to have public washrooms. Forget about the fancy pony walls, the advertising, the double sided display walls: please just get some washrooms into the designs so people can relieve themselves. How did anyone think that universal free internet on transit was more important than public washrooms?

Of course when you champion the fact that everyone needs to go, everyone sends you photos of the best public washrooms they have seen.

One friend is in New Zealand right now which is awash in public washrooms. You are limited to being in the toilet for ten minutes, and the washrooms play the tune “The Girl From Ipanema”. The photos below are taken in the waterfront town of Picton, New Zealand. You can read this post by Mayor of Langley Nathan Pachal on why the toilets are not vandalized in New Zealand– building higher grade facilities has mitigated that.


Former Downtown Business Vancouver Business Improvement Director Charles Gauthier send in this article by Feargus O’Sullivan that reviews the unique approach taken in Germany to create public washroom capacity.

“Nette Toilette” or “Nice Toilet” public program is created by municipalities that pay from 33 to 110 dollars monthly for businesses to allow their washrooms to be available to the general public. Special signage is put in the shop window to show that the business is part of the network. Bremen Germany now has the highest ratio of available public toilets to the residential population.

In North America the Portland Loo has had a long period of proven success for a toilet that  is safe and secure. The first Portland loo was installed in 2008 in the Old Town-Chinatown area. It is still there, still functioning.

The secret to the success of the Portland loo design is due to several factors. There is no running water, just a  spout on the exterior that pours cold water. There’s no mirror, which is a very vandalized item.  There are aso openings at the top and bottom of the Portland loo so that it is not completely private, ensuring that pedestrians and police know if someone is in there.

Add in a graffiti resistant finish and stainless steel walls and doors and the Portland loo is complete. The cost for the first washroom was $140,000 USD, but is now about $90,000. Maintenance is pegged at $1,000 per month per location.

From the first installation in Canada the Portland loo the design has been wildly successful and has been installed in Victoria B.C and in Smithers B.C. In fact in 2012 the Portland loo in Victoria was deemed to be the best public washroom in Canada and the Victoria Mayor was “flushed with pride”.

There are a few now being installed in Vancouver parks too.

In San Francisco JCDecaux (who also holds the advertising contract for Vancouver’s transit system for  street furniture) has introduced a shiny aluminum like public toilet which broke down in the first few days of usage. describes these toilets that look like a mid century retro rocket.

San Francisco is planning to have 25 of these new stainless steel kiosks on the ground to augment another 114 additional advertising kiosks once the bugs are worked out with this new design.

Meanwhile in Vancouver we are still in the world of mixed messages: that with a population that is becoming increasingly senior, and with a culture that is encouraging the use of transit and bicycles and walking we still don’t supply a basic human amenity. Everyone still needs to go.

It’s no longer appropriate to ask businesses to do the heavy lifting, which some did during the pandemic to grateful citizens. It is time for a clear strategy-public washrooms should be funded as an amenity that is paid for by development and embedded in commercial areas and along transit lines.

Here’s a YouTube video of a new public washroom being installed in parks in Japan.; cityofportland;dbramham


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  1. This is an important issue, for an aging population, for parents, and for others. More and more stores refuse access to washrooms to their customers. Shoppers Drug Mart told me to go to the Subway down the street.

  2. i am not a Vancouver resident anymore, but as a frequent visitor, I have a stake in this issue, as do hundreds of thousands of other commuters and tourists. Is there a local city councillor out there, even reading this essential blog, who can get behind this critical issue as a pet project, to secure them re-election?… just askin’. A public survey and ideas fair would be a great place to start.