Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Public Toilets can't we make them free for all?

Poor sanitation facilities is one of the reasons why most of our cities look ugly. Most of the population does not have the luxury of proper toilet facilities at their work place (and few do not have one even at their residence). Such people are expected to make use of public toilets (wherever there’s one) but many of them use public places are toilets even when they have access to a public toilet, the reason being, they are expected to pay a rupee or two, to use public toilets.

A kannada banner that advocates use of public toilets

If can make the public toilets free for usage, more and more people will use it and our cities will look more clean and hygienic. In this post, I try to present a business model, which if implemented can not only make public toilets free for all, but can also make them a profitable business.

In one line, the idea is to place advertisements inside public sanitation facilities and recover operating expense, thereby avoid asking users for money.

If you find that crazy and not viable, please read further.

Why people hesitate to pay for public toilets?

Two reasons: First, many people think it is waste of money when they can do it free of cost roadside. (That’s total shortage of civic sense. These same people do not mind spending one fourth of their daily income on Beedies, Cigarrates, Ghutkas and another two fourth on alchohol, but do not want to spend couple of rupees every day on sanitation.) That is a kind of attitude problem- Since I don’t have a mechanism to change their mindset and make them pay; I focus on a business model that doesn’t require them to pay.

Second: We (Municipal Corporation/police/public) neither punish those who do ugly things at road side, nor appreciate someone who spends his hard earned money to use public toilet. This gradually leads to an attitude: Why should I waste my money?

How much it costs to run a public sanitation facility?

Excluding one time expenditure on infrastructure, maintenance expenses would involve mainly water, electricity and salary for cleaner and supervisor. All these together shouldn’t be costing more than Rs. 10000 per public toilet per month. If you wish to recover this, you expect over 333 people to use it every day by paying Re 1 each, which doesn’t always happen. Instead, if we can rope in 10 advertisers who can pay Rs. 1000 per month we can recover this expense. (INR 1000 per month is quite cheap for any business having a turnover of few lakhs per month. A 2 column, 10 cm ad in local newspaper costs almost same)

By placing suitable advertisements, one can recover much more money than the expenditure and eventually can create a win-win-win situation for everyone involved.

What is the advantage?

Please keep the stigma aside and read further:

1 When you’re driving or traveling in a vehicle, you spare only few seconds at the hoardings or other advertisements on the road side. But ads displayed inside a loo would get couple of minutes of undivided attention of the user. Thus it ensures a deeper penetration into his brain.

2 While using a loo a person will usually be free from any tensions and won’t have hundreds of thoughts running in his mind. If something is displayed in front of him, in all probability he will read it in detail. This simply means higher success rate for the ad.

3 When it is made free, more and more people will come and use it. More readership for the ads.

4 Our cities will look cleaner and hygienic as considerable number of people will head towards free public urinals.

What kind of ads can be displayed in public toilets?
I classify public toilets into two categories for this purpose:

One: Those which are near to bus terminals/railway stations etc which are used primarily by inter city commuters. Here consumers will be interested in services like lodging, hotels, restaurants, travel services and tourist information etc.

Two: Other places: Here users will be construction workers, street side vendors, localities and other people who work/stay around the utility and would use it on a regular basis. Advertisements related to personal loans, discount sales being run at nearby stores, products that might be of interest to work force etc suite best here.

Cost of advertising in a loo will be much cheaper and more effective than other public advertsing options and I’m sure advertisers will be willing to give it a try.

In both places, leftover places can be used to display public awareness messages on HIV/AIDS etc.

Infosys Foundation, several municipalities and NGOs have set up several pay and use “Sulabh Shauchalaya”s across the country. If only they can make it free for usage with little more effort, it will change India’s image to a reasonable extent.

Scope for improvement: (light hearted)

If the model works, we can even think of having touch screen monitors with Credit card swiping machines attached in urinals…We can display google adsense ads on these monitors and user can make on the spot online purchase swiping his credit card…

Give incentive to people for using public toilets (Can be done when profits start pouring in)

Might sound crazy at this point but give it a thought. Please comment your views if it is feasible or not.

Check this: Museum of Toilets! (Sulabh Shouchalay International Toilet Museum-Delhi India)Link courtesy-Deepa Krishnan.


Manish said...

Amazing concept, mind blowing I must say. You sound like business men.
But not sure how much of it is practical in INDIA, well in U S or some other countries where mind set is quite different it might be applicable.

10/10 on the concept


Sandesh said...

Hehe! Nice topic!

One thing, I dont know how many people go by ads. But if most of them do so, this model would work out.

One more thing to note is that people who use public toilets, including some semi public toilets like those found in theatres, hotels and so forth, wont keep it clean. So do the do such things in Bus.

I'm talkin about the abusive words they write on the walls of the toilet. I've seen statements like 'I LOVE PRIYA', "DEVEGOWDA, DABBA NANN MAGA" in toilets and buses. They mainly use words which i can't disclose it here in this blog, but thats true an happening everywhere.

In such cases, they need to paint the toilets more frequently which would cost more and may be its a loss for the sponsers. Might be you should consider even this in the model.

Main thing is to bring awareness among people to use them.

Using google Adsense, swiping cards are tooooo techie! May be they are applicable latest by 2015-2020. Hehe! =)

All in all, a good read! Keep goin...

The Self-Proclaimed Wordsmith said...

I think this is a good idea - it'd keep the city clean, and encourage people to use the latrines instead of the road.

Also, the ads. will bring in revenue from a hitherto unused source. With this revenue, more janitors can be employed to keep the toilets clean, and people will be cheered by the prospect of clean toilets that are free.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Manish, Thanks. I believe it is practical India...atleast worth a try at couple of places and see how it works.

Sandesh: The floors and walls can be made non editable by using marbles etc...

And once money starts flowing in I see no reason why they cant be kept clean and neat.

Wordsmith, Thanks.

Sandesh said...

they carve! what then??

Shrinidhi Hande said...

carve with what? They'll need hard tools to do that...pen and sticks etc wont do...

And if the ads are interesting to read that should keep them busy...

How about showing videos????? :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

I got an excellent response for this article when it was published in Giving those comments below for your quick reference:

hakoonamatata said:
Sep 18, 2007 12:16 PM

Shrinidhi - another thoughtworthy review. You really think out of the box.
There can be positives as well as negatives of any idea, but nothing can be realised unless its given a try. Hence I endorse your opinion.
As for ADs in toilets, we already see some of that happening in toilets in all swanky malls / theatres etc, hence that is an idea advertisers already endorse. Yes, the socio-economic strata of society that visits public toilets is different, but enough reason to give it a try.

Chintu25 said:
Sep 18, 2007 12:28 PM


Thought provoking writeup....

You’ve actually put up very valid & relevant points...we can not expect people to change overnite...but yes we make them change by giving a lucrative alternative to them....

Alok_Sr said:
Sep 18, 2007 12:41 PM

Validity of your thoughts is proved by two commentators above so I don’t need to add any thing except a big nod that this idea must be implemented.

On the lighter note.. designers will have to be extremely creative and alert while deciding graphics and verbatim for these advertisements to out-think masses that will come to use it and would like to try their creativity as well :)

Person manning this toilet should have powers to fine some one who leaves the place dirty.. you can not simply wait for few to get straight .. carrot and stick should be the approach.

enidhi said:
Sep 18, 2007 01:01 PM

Thanks for endorsing my opinion. Yes, malls and airports and hotels have free toilets, but as you identified, my target users are not so fortunate general public.
enidhi said:
Sep 18, 2007 01:03 PM

@ Smita...I’m using your way of responding to comments :)

Thanks for agreeing and commenting.
enidhi said:
Sep 18, 2007 01:05 PM


We can make the place safe from those creative hands by using uneditable marble flooring, protective cover on hoardings etc.

Advertisements can be kept at an elevated position so that one’s hand doesn’t reach it easily...
Chintu25 said:
Sep 18, 2007 02:02 PM

Am makes a difference Shrini...hope you’ll agree with me :)

enidhi said:
Sep 18, 2007 02:11 PM

I do I do I do I do...

(repeated to reach 10 word count)
Paulsb02 said:
Sep 18, 2007 02:11 PM

Hai Srinidhi,

Fine thoughts from you...

A valid idea and I agree with Ateesh in this regard. You really think out of box.

However, the pay scheme work in two fronts.

One, it work as a self financing institution which makes a huge profit. Municipalities usually put the right in auction and the right is sold for lakhs.

Two: The facilities will be only used by the people who in need of it. (If it is free, sooner it become the rest place of all the immorals. It is a fact which I observed in many places)

On the other hand, we cannot expect people who starving for their food to come and pay for urinating.

It is from the part of the local administration to look after the sanitation needs of the area, one who use the facilites too need to care.

As Smita said, it is not going to happen overnight and I think your suggestion is really good one.

Hope some local administrations look into it seriously.



Paulsb02 said:
Sep 18, 2007 02:13 PM

Congratulations on your 50!!!!

I only come to notice your reviews recently, but then I noticed your reviews are indeed having depth and it throw more light.

So, look forward to read more and more good reviews from you!!!!

Keep rocking in MS!!!!



enidhi said:
Sep 18, 2007 02:20 PM

1. I had not noticed that it was my 50th review... thanks for bringing it to my (everyone’s) attention...

Yes. Poor people should get basic amneties free.

I think we can come up with a way to keep all immorals at bay. Shouldn’t be a problem...

I too hope someone takes it seriously...

Chintu25 said:
Sep 18, 2007 02:47 PM

Congrats for the 50th review....

(Min 10 words & Max 2000 Characters)

enidhi said:
Sep 18, 2007 02:56 PM



Moreover, thanks for visiting again and again and read comments and their responses and commenting back... Not many people do that...
ajjis said:
Sep 18, 2007 02:57 PM


Nothing crazy, but everything is brilliant and thoughtful about your review ! hope these things come into vogue ASAP...
Maintaining Public Toilets would make life easier for so many people...a much needed basic amenity ...there could also be a contribution box (monetary) at such toilets to help fund improvements
keep writing and congrats on 50..!
vmshut said:
Sep 18, 2007 02:58 PM

Well thought out write up. But, in my view the problem is more complicated, its not only aquestion of money. There are several Sulabh toilets in MUmbai. They all have a separate loo at one end of the building. All these stink to an unbearable limit. In the beginning water flushing is provided but in no time all the piping disappears and then there is cleaning. Similarly for ’slum’ areas
there are toilets still at least the children can be seen sqating on the roadside. Huge wastebins are provided on the road and the road around is littered with garbage even before the bin is full. The peoblem therefore is manifold. Besides your very thoughtful ideas, the Municipality has to be more caring and less corrupt, the toilets need to be maintained and availabilty increased and so on.
enidhi said:
Sep 18, 2007 03:04 PM


Thanks for commenting. I too hope this becomes reaLity.
enidhi said:
Sep 18, 2007 03:06 PM


If the model proves to be successful and profitable it can be handed over to private operators who will maintain it better and ensure that things dont get stolen.

sonali.prabhu said:
Sep 18, 2007 04:04 PM

This should be the review of the day!

Maintenence - daily for cleanliness , and regular ofr ensuring that all facilities work fine, would be the key to success of this model. the idea of handing this over to private operators or facility managers would surely help.
enidhi said:
Sep 18, 2007 04:37 PM


Thanks for branding my review as review of the day... Mouthshut team..are you reading? :)
thakurman said:
Sep 18, 2007 04:40 PM

Why would I use my credit card at the loo? There’s more chance of misuse at a public place. Instead the present way of operating by private (such as the infy bathrooms) are what is required.

But yeah, the idea of paid ads on public toilets makes sense. It not only brings corporate responsibility to the fore, but also a break even source...


enidhi said:
Sep 18, 2007 05:26 PM

@ ?+?™ (thakurman):

The last part is written with future outlook...You may ignore at this point of time...
vishalvkale01 said:
Sep 18, 2007 08:08 PM

I think it is eminently feasible, and very well reasoned. There is no reason why it cannot work out. Yes, the advertisement content will have to take sensibilities of the people into account, as, for example, people may not respond well to eatable products and/or restaurants being advertised in these places. This is important because it may rub off on the clientelle of these brands. That apart, a brilliant idea
enidhi said:
Sep 18, 2007 08:41 PM

Yes Vishal, I do Agree.

Thanks for the comment

vmshut said:
Sep 18, 2007 10:46 PM

I do not think this model can work. Toilets are quite clean at airports and now at some Rly. Stations. But there are no ads. anywhere. Putting ads. at these places is not an attractive idea it would seem. Not only here I have not seen ads. anywhere in toilet rooms. May be just a bill board saying this place is maintained by .... appeal to some corporates.
thakurman said:
10 hrs 19 mins ago

No, Vinod sir, I think it all depends on what is the content presented. For ex., you can have a condom ad displayed, or toiletry ads itself like sanitary ware or other such (Toilet fresheners - The stink in a public toilet would remind people to buy fresheners for their bathrooms) I mean there are more such products which are exclusively focussed on bathrooms which can be highlighted. Infosys already displays such boards stating which bathrooms are maintained by them. But in the end, they should also focus on improving the revenue model.

iamsonali said:
0 hrs 12 mins ago

Your idea is really good. Adding to it, i also feel that these concrete loos are an overkill. Have you seen the new prefabricated, plastic ones at construction sites? Am sure they are cheap and can be setup anywhere quickly. They are also easy to clean. Wouldn’t it help to install these in slums where there is already a space crunch?

I know cleaning toilets is painful and no one likes to use a dirty one, so maybe its time for someone to invent a self-cleaning one.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Comments I got at

September 18, 2007
10:23 AMI got news fer ya... there are free toilets here in bangalore and yet I *STILL* see men pissing on the wall right next to it. not 100 yards away, not across the street.. NEXT TO IT.

I do wish this would work, but I have my serious doubts.
September 18, 2007
01:35 PMenidhi:

it should be done
it can be done
is there a will to do it?

articulations such as these can help create the will!
Deepa Krishnan
September 19, 2007
09:21 AMThe problems are many - overcrowding in cities, lack of sanitation facilities, lack of hygiene awareness, no health education, and of course, the lack of any civic sense. Oh, and also, lack of awareness of HOW to use a toilet.

I don't even know where the solution should start.

I wonder what kind of companies would be willing to advertise in stinky toilets.

I suppose everyone knows about the Toilet Museum in Delhi?

Anonymous said...

Nice idea. I would also suggest that the advertisers write down instructions on how to use the toilet in English, Hindi and the local language. I am sure there are many educated people who do not know how to use toilets. They don't know that they need to clean up or flush after them. Also users should be directed to wash their hands with soap after using the toilets.
Thanks for letting me comment.

Smart Siddu said...

Hey, I appreciate the way you hit the issues. I have been in Tokyo quite for some time and your blog entry for public toilets in India, reflects the change in attitude required. IMHO advts are NOT the solutions for maintaining healthy toilets.
1. Indians are rich enough to pay for toile use.
2. If I want to sell some thing to my customers, I don’t see Toilets as the best place (neither going to be cheap) to advertise, even I sell condoms.
3. You might have seen toilets in the airports, very poor in condition. Do you think airports lack money?

What is lacking is not money, but it is awareness. How many of the (mostly uneducated) people maintaining toilets know that many diseases spread from public toilets.
What we need is better administration, more public health awareness. Kudos to your article.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Anonymus: You need not thank me for letting you comment. Its my pleasure and you're welcome.

Sidhu: Yes, it will be good if we can spread the awareness. But how do we go about it? MY idea was if we stop asking for money many people will stop using roadside...

Shruthi said...

It seems like a very good idea, Shrinidhi. The question is, can you make the right people read this?

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Shruti, I hope it reaches right people. I have published it in multiple places to gain max readership. Will have to see if it makes any difference.

Stone said...

Brilliant idea!!
Only possible fallout could be....'pre-set mindset of users'!!

(We)They've been doing it anywhere anytime without any fear or embrassment.....sometime they do it not coz they're saving money but there are no public toilets available.

So first step should be building sufficient toilets and some extra effort from law enforcers.

so it'll take sometime for

Abhisek Pandey said...

lol @ the future scopes. But, I am quite impressed with the idea and It can be given a try. Well, I am serious about it. Two things are needed to be taken care of:-
1. Place & initial setup- One will require a place to build it and most importantly, the availability of sanitation and water supply will be needed. Initial funding can be brought from external sources, if given a try. Though this point needs a detailed thought.
2. Advertisements:- Along with the people who dont pay Rs 1 to pee but spend Rs 20 for Cigg/Beedi/Pan etc, the business people and alikes carry the same attitude. They are not going to pay you for paid poster ads when they can post the posters on city walls for no cost (just like the dudes who pee on roadside). So, it is a bit difficult to make them convinced about the ethics, benefits, reach, and readability of the ads.

Anyways, would like to hear from you on these points and I'd appreciate if you could enlighten me more. coz u seem to have the domain expertise ;) (no puns, was just joking). I, with few more youth from all over India and Indians across world, am going to take an initiative for national interest. We are already working on it and it will be visible to common junta very soon. Having too many plans and things to work at national level and we are starting with

...And I, as a DIPian, have got an interest in your idea and would like to proceed if it seems executable.


Abhisek Pandey said...

forgot to add, you are cordially invited to our site - or my blog for further comm, if you wish to. You can also email me at

I cant make you sure that I'll do 100% justice to your effort and cant make you sure about its execution, even if we would be able to work out on this idea completely. But, I think I'll try! Thanks! :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Stone, Yes, number of sanitation facilities need to be increased. But let us make good use of existing ones first...That's my idea. Because constructing them is no big deal, ensuring that they serve the purpose is.

We can come out with laws like imposing fine or such means to gradually discourage people to use roadside.

Your statements are valid. But if few percentage of people change their mind that should convince others also over a period of time.

I checked your site. Userstand that it is yet to be launched. WIll keep an eye on it. Let me know if there's anything specific I can do.

Sid said...

It's really an amazing concept. Especially the kind of attention an ad would get in the loo is amazing.

You just stand there and do your thing so if you get something to read or stare at, why wouldn't you?

In fact I made pretty good use of this during college elections. Printing and pasting posters was disallowed in our the only place where the proctor wouldn't check were the toilets. So I put up two large hand-made leaflets on the wall in front of the urinals. I was pretty impressed with the response they got and I am sure a significant vote was casted for our side more because of the idea rather the candidate himself.

You take it a step forward and do it well. Try getting someone to implement it.

Abhisek Pandey said...

Right, thats why I said it should be given a try. We are going to launch our site within a month or two. I'll surely inform you about all the developments.

I am not sure about all the things related to this idea. What I want from you is to think comprehensively about this idea and make a detailed plan such that you have to start it after the moment you are done with all the planning and stuffs. I'd appreciate if you could provide a complete implementation and operational plan. Let me talk to my friends about this and lets see if we could add something to it from our side. Atleast, I'll keep providing my counter-questions.

Will look forward to proceed. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

--What about seeking advertising from health-related agencies - would a place like a clinic or social agency pay to post public interest notices in a public toilet?

--I wonder if there are businesses which could get interested in a positive public relations effect of making themselves known as sponsoring these facilities which are for the benefit of the public and for the improvement of quality of life and health.

--And do you think it would be possible to engage children's schools in teaching children to use the toilets, praising them for it, encouraging them to tell parents about it? In the US, this kind of message to children about smoking and health really resulted in children's nagging parents about it, and I think it is often effective.

Anyhow I appreciate your idea and hope to hear of its success.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Sid, I'm currently trying to get the message across. Have to see if I can find anyone to implement it.

Abhishek, I'll work on detailed implementation and operational plan, but as of now it is simple as this: Calculate how much it costs to run one toilet per month. Identify some shop owners/advertisers/enterprenurs who can pay a small amount in exchange for their ads.

@NeeliAankhen: Not all industries will comeforward to put their ads, but some industries will sure consider this.

Teaching toilet usage in schools is a good concept but parents may create an issue out of it if any school tries to implement it.

Kumar said...

Our Government thinks in quite opposite way. They charge user using the pulic toilet and allow road users freely,absolute non-sense. It is irritatng & nauseating though I used to discribe it as funny, some time back I was using a paid toilet in junction in Vadalur, a semi town near Neiveli, the toilet keeper Literally using a torch asking & finding out whether I was using "1" or "2" as the rates are different. Although it looks funny as one of "Vadivelu comedy" the realty is sickening and showing the thinking of the Goverment

Shrinidhi Hande said...


Agreed...Its something that can be changed...that's the main idea here...

Ashish Kanak said...

Great idea bro.
I would like to add a few points to your valuable suggestion.
Firstly, I believe that payment is not the only constraint as there are several free public toilets in Mumbai but still some people prefer open-air. But yeh..cost may be one of the compounding factors.
I would feel people prefer open-air for these reasons
- Waiting time in public toilets especially in the mornings
- unhygenic condition
- distance from home
- and ofcourse cost attached, if any
I absolutely agree that few of these people would be spending handsomely on bidis and gutka. But if the above 4 points are satisfied then the things will change drastically.

To add to your advertisement concept..its a marvellous idea.
Generally public toilets are road-side standalone building. Its terraces can be used to host hoardings. On-road hoardings fetch better rentals.

Why i am coming to on-road hoarding is because these public (community) toilets are generally used by chawl/hutment people where there are fewer earning members and many uneducated-dependent members. Hence inside advirtisement may not be very lucrative for advirtising companies.

If such concepts can be combined and more public toilets are opened (to reduce the waiting time and proxmity) then I would say our premises will definitely become cleaner.

Thanks once again for great concept. keep enlightening :)

Ashish Kanak

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Hi Ashish Kanak

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The model I propose is best suited for cities where it is possible to get advertisers. If this model succeeds in cities we can think of taking it to villages, where open-Air issue is rampant.

Hoardings are good idea but hoardings also come up with huge rental, license fee, electricity expense etc...

Thanks Again.

*miss*carinsurance* said...

Great idea!!

I know in South Africa we also pay for the use of public restrooms, and after we spend the money and finally go to the bathroom, i usually get a suprise that the bathroom was cleaned a week ago or so! so now im wondering where the money we spend go to??

you're concept is definately something compenies and malls should concider, just for the fact that they could then actually afford cleaners!

There is just a slight problem: I know that especcially in SA, people will make misuse of the facillities if it's free, and vandilation may become a huge problem...

Thanks for your insight!


Shrinidhi Hande said...

vandalization is a problem-but some supervision/awareness program might help.


Saraplast said...

I have a better Idea than this.
In India where Bureucracy does not even spare sanitation.
I think better optio is Portable Toilets.

Shrinidhi Hande said...


Good idea. Please consider sharing your thoughts on how to go about implementing it?

Anonymous said...

Brilliant idea...a few days back I had read an article in some newspaper that a fellow in a town in China thoght about constructing a Public Toilet to diversify his business and it really worked and he is earning a sizeable monthly income now.It is really encouraging to read your article on the subject which is most neglected area in our society. When we can contribute so generously to our temples and even beggars, can't we start paying for our health and cleanliness? We need to raise our concern for this issue of tremendous significance. Ravinder

Shrinidhi Hande said...

we can pay for health and cleanliness, but that is certainly not on the priority list for many, who prefer to save a few bucks...

Very difficult to change the mentality.

desi Traveler said...

This is one workable idea. Though Sulabh is doing a lot of work in this field a lot more needs to be done. I like the concept of Ads as revenue source. In one of the malls in Hyderabad they have ads in the mall toilets, and I have seen the same in some of the cinema halls also. So great idea now we need to see how it can be implemented.