With public toilet facilities declining, and more reports of anti-social toilet-related behaviour, it’s clear that the professional driver has a problem accessing toilet facilities during their work day.
In the week that I decided to tackle this thorny subject, I was forced to witness a most disturbing demonstration of public toileting. As I waited on the rank at Jermyn Street, by Haymarket, a man approached the temporary loo on the corner. It wasn’t an enclosed booth, but one of those open-view stand-up pissoirs that they put up on projected high-alcohol weekends. He proceeded to unzip himself and took a pee, just a few yards from my cab and right in my line of view. Not wishing to witness the full horror of this spectacle I busied myself with checking my ComCab screen; just noting enough for the purposes of this article. It was a thoroughly unpleasant sight at 6pm at a busy West End junction. I wondered what the good, unsuspecting, burghers, of St James would think as they go about their honest business; or visitors passing by, hoping to soak up the glamour and sophistication of the capital. I also wondered what my account customer would think, should he emerge from his office at this moment. The event was not only totally legal, but encouraged by the presence of these awful toilet stalls. What has this country come to? (and what a job it must be for the people unloading these contraptions!).
Maybe I shouldn’t have been offended? I do tend to be caught out by modern practices that would have been considered disgraceful in my younger days: wearing pyjamas to go to the shops is one recent practice. Toileting in public on a busy West End street is another. My first thought was, there was no need for it. Any pedestrian caught short can try a pub, café, or coffee shop. Confident folk might even try to get past a hotel doorman. I doubt all of these establishments would let non-customers use their facilities, but I’d imagine most would be sympathetic.
It’s more difficult for us drivers because we have parking restrictions to consider. Regency Place looks a good place to park for a few minutes, but as many cab drivers have found out, they are watching you. A friend of mine had his number taken there very recently. Westminster Council would probably deny employing stealth taxing, but they’ve been targeting people for several years by the Iron Lung – one of the few remaining free toilets in Central London. If Westminster parking spooks want to do something useful, they could help clear the vans and mini-cabs from Bond Street.
Many public toilets are only open in the daytime, and there are plans to close some down completely, according to consultancy notices I’ve seen around. If you find one open, you often have to pay. While I understand this, I still kind of resent paying for health and hygiene while I’m serving the great public of London (I’m also offended when I’m on a day out to London and I have to pay to use the toilets at Euston after paying a king’s ransom for a train ticket).
Without adequate facilities, we will continue to hear about taxi drivers dumping bottles full of urine in residential streets, and of Uber drivers using people’s gardens around Heathrow as toilets. Disgusting behaviour, but London councils should do more to help people whose work involves driving around all day, scared to stop moving. Taxi drivers are understandably concerned with their own situation, but the lack of facilities for private hire drivers is probably worse, as they have no official rest ranks. It all contributes to an unpleasant and unhealthy environment. People don’t generally pee for fun – though I understand some people use toilet cubicles for fun.
I don’t think I’m being controversial in saying that cab driving doesn’t tend to be a young person’s game. There must be quite a few drivers with bladder and bowel problems, and holding it in can bring on urinary tract problems.
Councils will say it’s all about money, but they really need to keep their public toilets open, particularly if TfL are licensing 700 mini-cab drivers every week.
My research shows there’s a Community Toilet Scheme (CTS) in operation, where participating bars, shops and restaurants provide free access to their facilities during trading hours. I’ve not seen any businesses with stickers promoting this, but it’s a good move. Some coffee shops keep their toilets locked and you have to ask for a code at the counter, but at least there are plenty of them around these days. I can see why some places are reluctant to oblige, because some people are messy, and some vandalise toilets for fun. I think the best we can do at present is identify places where we can park safely for a few minutes, and find somewhere that looks user-friendly. If we can’t slip in and out unnoticed, then ask politely.
As a humorous footnote, five minutes after witnessing the public peeing, a man walked his dog up to the toilet and let it do its business. Open plan toilets for dogs are one thing, but please, not for people. That’s taking the piss.
Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.