Trains, toilets and tourism

We can evaluate a country’s development in a number of ways, but perhaps one of the true measures of progress can be found in the state of its public toilets, particularly those found in its transportation systems—its airports, seaports, bus and train stations. This is something the government must pay attention to and spend for, particularly as part of its strategy to support the growth of the tourism sector.

Currently, there is a general lack of available restrooms and proper facilities for users of mass transportation in the country. For instance, a viral post circulated in social media recently showed a picture of the deplorable state of toilets in the train stations of the Philippine National Railways. We featured this in a story, written by our reporter Lorenz S. Marasigan (See, “John’ problem in PNR commuter stations may have to stay awhile, in the Business-Mirror online, August 1, 2018).

The toilets in the PNR train station, based on the picture shared on Facebook by Ehm Diolata, lacked proper washing facilities and even partitions for each bowl.  It was bad enough there were no partitions to separate each bowl and provide users the most basic privacy; worse, the sign outside tags it as a unisex toilet, with the male and female icons posted. So everyone has to do their thing in full view of everyone else, is that how it is?

Junn B. Magno, PNR general manager, told the BusinessMirror that they are finding it hard to complete the 20 toilet facilities in the stations of the commuter rail due to legalities pertaining to procurement. He blamed the previous administration for having tapped multiple contractors for the different supplies and manpower requirements for the toilets. “What they did is they auctioned off the parts and pieces of the contract to different contractors—meaning, we have a different deal for the structure, another for the furnishings, another for the part of the toilet—instead of one,” he said.

Based on documents from the Department of Transportation, the previous management decided to chop the toilet-construction contract into six. The six contracts are part of the larger toilet-improvement program—dubbed as Kayo ang Boss Ko Toilet Facilities—for the different offices and facilities owned and/or operated by the transportation department—including airports ports and regional offices.

In total, the whole program costs about P143.14 million. The project for the PNR was priced at P7.03 million. At such an exorbitant cost, commuters should have been using Japan-quality toilets by now, but only in the Philippines can constructing toilets for train stations turn into such a protracted, convoluted bureaucratic mess. Not one toilet in 20 stations was finished. They were all abandoned. The lack of decent toilets in our mass transit systems is not a trivial matter. Indeed, the lack of public toilets and the poor condition of existing ones, even in highly urbanized Metro Manila, have been raised not only by foreign visitors but even local residents over the years.

Many Filipinos have at one time or another, taken the “open roadside option” to answer the call of nature simply because they have no choice. Sometimes, even when there is a public toilet available, doing it outside is better because public toilets are often clogged, with no running water, or are magnets for muggers and other criminals. Foreign tourists, of course, are often appalled. Never mind the embarrassment or impropriety, many of them also come from countries where relieving yourself in public is illegal and can get you jailed.

Good public toilets are important to tourism. Having good toilets in tourist spots all over the country will encourage visitors to linger, look around, spend more time and money. By “good” we mean clean, comfortable and safe restrooms, with washbasins, running water, flushing toilets, with no fees required and separate facilities for both men and women. There should also be a minimum number of toilets according to the number of people who visit or use a particular location or facility.

The construction of toilets to serve the public, and tourists should not just be the responsibility of the government. Local governments, through simple but strictly implemented city and municipal ordinances, can also mandate businesses to provide decent toilets to help with the sanitation and tourism efforts.

We should, once and for all, do away with the image of public restrooms as dirty, deficient and even dangerous.

Image Credits: Jimbo Albano

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