John Nevil Maskelyne.

Nature The pay toilet, originally invented by the magician John Nevil Maskelyne, oscillates in availability. In Liverpool, there's a convenience at the top of Bold Street, one at Liverpool One, Clayton Square and Liverpool Lime Street. But in general, since the loss of public conveniences, and when a latrine seems as far away as Mount Doom, it's a case of either becoming a patron at a caffeination station or brazening it in the hopes that previous custom at a restaurant or department store can be taken as some kind of collateral.

Apart from when the restaurant has instituted a coding system, in which case you left trying to remember said code from the last visit or dismally walking away (or skipping depending on the level of discomfort). But I understand the reasons why companies are less inclined to give casuals access to their conveniences. Some of those casuals are the reason public venues have closed with their vandalism and other things.  It's just difficult given the lack of the aforementioned public apparatus in easy reach.

Now a McDonald's on 20th Avenue in Brooklyn is piloting another option: a pay toilet within its restaurant. Customers can either queue up and ask for a token (or presumably get one with their meal) or pay 25 cents to take care of their business. Non-customers, the rest of us, the casuals, can simply dodge in from the sidewalk and pay the quarter.  As the Yahoo article explains, this follows the story of a barber who began charging a dollar for people to use his bathroom, though he called it a nuisance tax.

I'm not surprised.  There's brazening it and there's a bizarre sense of entitlement which is what some local residents seem to have as they complain that it's unethical for Macdonalds and whoever else to charge people who aren't customers to use their bathroom.  A similar issue attended the Starbucks in New York when they began to put attendants on the door.  How dare they, was the message, stop me from walking in off the street and using their toilet when I haven't bought a coffee?

Whenever I've done it, I've always felt guilty.  It's the fear of getting caught, of a staff member shouting, "Hey! You're not a customer!  How dare you use our toilet!" or some other unlikely scenario.  Sometimes I've elaborately stood around for a moment as if waiting for someone afterwards then pulled out my mobile phone and pretended that the person I was supposed to be meeting hasn't arrived or I'm waiting in the wrong place.  The staff probably don't notice but it makes me feel better.

Which is why adding a pay element would be an excellent move because on the "rare" occasions when I am caught short, I'd become a customer of Costa Coffee or whoever by using their toilet which in some ways is just as much a public place as a station.  The going rate seems to be about twenty pence (thirty at a push) which seems just right to me.  If I'd otherwise be paying for their water as part of a beverage, it seems only fair that I should also  help pay the rates bill for any other implementation of that particular utility.

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