CHINA

Shanghai's public toilets make pots of money

One of our Observers in China is leading an investigation into... the public toilets at Shanghai train station. It might seem like a trivial subject, but Web users from the city don't think so - not when the WCs rake in 11 million euros each year. Read more...

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One of our Observers in China is leading an investigation into... the public toilets at Shanghai train station. It might seem like a trivial subject, but Web users from the city don't think so - not when the WCs rake in 11 million euros each year.

Shanghai residents are infuriated with having to pay to use the public toilets and are wondering where their coins go after the pay pot at the entrance. Some have even totted up how much the local government must amass from the pay-as-you-go services, which are the most frequented in China. Their estimates sum up an astronomical amount around 100m RMB, or €11m a year.

It's only one Yuan (0.1 euro cent) per person, but with up to 40,000 travellers passing through the station each day, the business is a profitable one. Our Observer Xiaodong Du went to the toilets in question to investigate. He came back with his own estimates... somewhat lower than rumour would have it.

Certified toilets

Price rates are all approved by the price regulation office. Highly priced toilets have nothing to do with location, only with design standards. In April this year, the city department promised that all of Shanghai's public toilets would be made free of charge before World Expo 2010."

Shanghai Railroad station, West Tianmu Road, Zhabei District,Shanghai

The lady who's in charge of the money pot told me that most of the people who work in the toilets are paid about 1,200 RMB (€127) each month. It's less than the average wage in China (€200), but it's not bad.

The toilet is managed by Amenities Authority under Zhabei District (Shanghai) local government, so excluding maintenance costs, the rest of the money turns into government revenue."

Xiaodong Du's photos

Road signs to the toilets.

Numbers can reach 40,000 a day during Spring Festival mass exodus (Chinese New Year).

A lady is standing by a huge iron can (with a banner that reads "1 Yuan each time") at the entrance. The guy sitting behind the counter is in charge of giving change to people with only notes.

"Coin changing" A ha! They've got everything thought out!

The urinals (there are also squatting basins...).

Staff clean the toilets on a regular basis, so overall it's quite clean. But it gets worse in peak season.

Our Observer tries to make his own estimations

Xiaodong Du filmed the entrance of the toilet for five minutes to try to work out customer numbers.

Within 5 minutes over 50 people walk in, and according to the lady in charge of the toilet, people have to queue for a long time in peak season... So the earnings are likely to exceed 5m RMB a year (around €531,000). Not 11 million, but it's still very high and a profitable business!"

Complaints posted online (translated by Xiaodong Du):

"I live in Guilin, where every toilet in our city is free of charge: in the bus stations, scenic areas, in the city centre and the suburbs, all free..."

"I live in Beijing; every toilet in our city is free of charge too!"

"Let me tell you something, in ChengGong County you have to pay 300,000 RMB every year for the right to open a small public toilet in the food market."

"I think it's ok if the toilet is clean, they need money for maintenance anyway. But one Yuan is a bit high, when in most places it's usually 0.2 to 0.5 Yuan."

"The Shanghai authorities are gradually making more and more public toilets free of charge. I question whether they're still charging for this one because it's so profitable. It won't do the city's reputation any good."