From chamber pots to the Roman public toilets to the water closet, sanitation has been an important issue for cities to manage. This issue could not be more important in a crowded construction site such as Les Halles. Upon our first visit to the area, we began by trying to locate the public toilets. This proved to be difficult as few pedestrians knew the location of any toilets outside of the mall, and the Les Halles map showed very few of them. Because of this, we focused on the toilets inside of the mall as there were clear signs pointing to the facilities. However, we also looked at the temporary sanitary facilities located near the Saint Eustache Church since they were one of the few toilets marked on the Les Halles map and were clearly visible in order to see how indoor toilet use compared to outdoor usage. In addition to seeing how popular various facilities were, we were also interested in learning about the effect of pricing on the toilet usage.
As our variable, we decided to measure the frequency of toilet usage as it related to the location and prices of the toilets. We identified 4 key facilities to study for a 20 minute period: three within the mall which each charged .50€ per use and the temporary sanitary facilities outside which were free. At the temporary sanitary facilities, only two people entered over the course of the twenty minute time period. At the Toilettes Rambuteau on level -1, 33 individuals entered, and 8 additional people turned around after seeing the price. At the Place Carré Toilettes located on level -3, there were 36 users, and no one turned around. We attempted to study the women only facility, which is on level -3, but we were asked to leave by security 5 minutes into the study. However, during that time we observed 6 users. There was a 20% turn around rate at Toilettes Rambuteau, perhaps due to the lack of visibility of the price until actually entering whereas there is a clear cashier before the entrance at Place Carré.
This data was collected on Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 at 3:30 PM, meaning that the mall was not very crowded compared to late afternoons, when people leave work, or weekends. However, we did notice a high frequency of toilet usage overall. This can be explained by the high usage of Les Halles in general since Chatelet-Les Halles is a transport hub, with approximately 800,000 commuters per day, as well as being a large shopping mall in the center of Paris, with approximately 300,000 customers per day. An interesting phenomena to note is the higher usage of paid restrooms rather than the free temporary sanitary facility despite the cost. This could be due to the lack of knowledge of the existence of these free facilities or due to other factors such as cleanliness and accessibility since shoppers would be reluctant to go above ground when there are facilities in the mall or most likely, a mixture of both. We also noticed that some people went to the bathrooms in groups, and upon seeing the cost of usage, left one person go while the others waited outside. This phenomenon suggests that the minimal cost of the bathrooms discouraged non-urgent users while still allowing urgent users to use the bathrooms.
As we observed in our study, the restrooms tended to be in remote areas compared to the center of the shopping mall. The largest barrier in maximizing the usage of restrooms is the energy required to find and knowledge of these restrooms. Thus, we propose the creation of an app that not only includes the designated restrooms that are marked on maps and by signs but also includes the informal restrooms in cafes and places like McDonalds and Starbucks. It should include different filters to sort out the categories: “free,” “free with purchase,” and “cost: X€“ where X is the price. In addition, as seen by the potential users who turned away, the price can be a deterrent for some. Multiple A/B test case studies should be done to optimize the price of the toilets as well to lessen turn away. Furthermore, an optimal restroom layout, regarding the number and location of toilets, should be created through data collection and analysis. This improvement makes use of the main types of smart city technologies, a smartphone app as well as data analysis all to improve the experience of Les Halles customers.