Here’s a question for you. What basic service that every human being needs just increased its price by 40% in some parts of Paris? It’s not electricity or gasoline or highway tolls. It’s not the price of coffee or a baguette. It’s the price of peeing in this fair city. That’s right, now that many public toilets have been transformed into “retail” stores, the price has skyrocketed. Let me explain how this costly upgrading of restrooms came about.
Back in September of 2015, the “Dames Pipi” of Paris, the ladies who took your money at public train stations, airports, etc. and offered a clean toilet in return, discovered that they were losing their jobs. The mayor of Paris, Annie Hidalgo, had signed a new contract with 2theloo, a Dutch company that claims to make going to the toilet an “extraordinary experience”. Usually, this new boss would be obliged to keep the employees who were already there.
However, 2theloo’s lawyers argued that they were a retail company (selling toilet-related products to the customers) and refused to keep the former employees since they could not speak English. The “Dames Pipi” took their case to court – and lost. They lost both the court case and their jobs. And now, the consumers are paying the consequences.
I recently witnessed first-hand this so-called “progress” at the Gare Montparnasse train station of the 15th district of Paris. This is a huge station where thousands of commuters pass through daily on their way into the city or on their way westward to Brest, Nantes, Bordeaux. Before 2theloo took over toilet management here, it cost 50 centimes (about 52 cents) to use the public restroom and have a chat with the “Dames Pipi” who were always pleasant and efficient. In February of 2016, the prices at the Montparnasse Station jumped to 70 centimes (about 73 cents) and the middle-aged ladies have been replaced by twenty-something year-olds who speak English. (We are talking about Paris here and I’m pretty sure that the Parisians pee in French – so who cares what language the new employees can speak.)
There are a few so-called improvements that 2theloo is making as it revamps public restroom services at Montparnasse. They have added a sign and a mirror on the wall that says “Make Up Corner”. It is now possible to pee between 6 am to midnight (it was 8 – 8 before). You can use your credit card. And, 2theloo takes it even further, you can pay using a contactless credit card. As a special bonus, you can buy a plastic type of loyalty card that will get you 12 pees for 7 Euros (56 centimes for each usage) or 25 pees for 14 Euros (58 cents for each usage). I am guessing that innovative concept was developed for commuters. The occasional tourist would not need to be “loyal” to any particular toilet.
It is difficult, at this point, to justify such a huge price increase. The toilets are exactly the same as the ones that cost forty percent less only one month ago. Maybe 2theloo will develop other services. Perhaps they will sell us fluorescent-colored toilet paper or toothbrushes in the shape of a train. But is that really a justification for such a price hike? And what pressed-for-time commuter actually wants to do anything but pee in their native language?
I, for one am all for efficiency and clean public toilets in any large city. But I must confess that I miss the ladies.
It was comforting to see a bit of humanity in a large, impersonal train station where harried, stressed, unhappy people are running around like crazy. I sincerely hope the “Dames Pipi” have moved on to better things and that 2theloo gave them all a free-pee-for-life contactless loyalty card as a parting bonus. That’s the least they could do for erasing a historical piece of the Parisian scenery.