A lack of public toilets is a widespread problem that particularly affects the elderly, people living with disabilities, and families, a researcher says.
- There is only one 24-hour public toilet in Port Adelaide
- An advocate is campaigning for the local council to install more facilities
- Researchers say a lack of public toilets is a widespread problem
The issue is a familiar one to visitors to the heritage waterfront city of Port Adelaide, which has only two operational public toilets that are more than a kilometre apart.
The only toilet in the main business district is an old facility located behind the visitor information centre, with minimal signage, that is locked after hours.
The other is an automated facility containing one toilet at Harts Mill.
Disability advocate and local business owner Shane Hryhorec is launching a campaign to get the local council to put in more public bathrooms.
"There's a huge need for more bathrooms in this area," he said.
"The port is getting busier, more and more people are coming here, but the facilities and the bathrooms are not growing and improving with the population that's growing.
"There's a lot of people in the community that are frustrated by the bathrooms, including business owners.
"Because the council doesn't give public bathrooms for people to use, they end up going into the businesses."
Mr Hryhorec said it was inadequate to have one 24-hour public toilet more than a kilometre away from the main precinct.
"It takes me 20 minutes to wheel there in my wheelchair," he said.
"It is open all the time but it's very far for people to get to and at night it can be very dangerous going through the dark streets.
"Being an automatic bathroom, it's not a great experience … so if you're a person with a disability you use it if you have to use it, but it's not a preference."
Lack of public toilets causes huge problems
Port Adelaide is not the only area where people are struggling to find a public toilet.
Flinders University associate professor Lisel O'Dwyer said she became aware of the importance of public toilets while conducting research on age-friendly cities.
"We conducted a focus group with people aged over 70 and many of them mentioned the fact that there were no public toilets in their area and that made it difficult for them to plan to go out for more than an hour or so," she said.
Dr O'Dwyer said a lack of available toilets particularly affected the elderly, people living with disabilities or health issues, and families with small children.
"We've got such large distances to cover in an Australian city … obviously the longer you spend outside the home, the more likely it is you'll need to use the toilet," she said.
"The infrequency of public transport is another problem that people have mentioned to me … If they miss the train or a bus, then it's a long wait for the next one and if there are no toilet facilities nearby then that causes difficulty."
Dr O'Dwyer said a lack of toilets was also creating problems in other countries, where people have resorted to urinating in the street.
"It's a huge problem in the UK … it's actually got the point where the acid in urine is starting to damage buildings," she said.
Dr O'Dwyer said some businesses in the United States were capitalising on the lack of available toilets by advertising their own facilities as a drawcard.
She said there was no state or federal legislation requiring local governments to provide public toilets and therefore higher socio-economic areas often had good facilities, while other areas were neglected.
Building and managing toilets an expensive task, council says
Mr Hryhorec made a deputation to the local Port Adelaide Enfield Council earlier this month, urging it to bring in portable Changing Places facilities to immediately improve amenities until a permanent solution is found.
"The council needs to think outside the box and look at other places to put bathrooms," he said.
"One of the elected members had a really good idea about turning car spaces into public bathrooms, which I think is a fantastic idea and it's worth exploring."
He said the council needed to listen to its community.
The City of Port Adelaide Enfield said the yearly cost to fix vandalism was $11,000 per toilet.
"While it might look simple, building and managing public toilets is an expensive task, which includes a lot of logistical issues alongside it involving the location, access, and ongoing management," Mayor Claire Boan said in a statement.
"Building new toilets also requires us to find and purchase suitable public land in a really accessible location that is highly patronised, which can also be a challenge," she said.
"Places such as Port Adelaide simply do not have the required space to build these facilities at the moment."
The council said it was looking into some "short-term creative options to address the lack of space in Port Adelaide to build these facilities" until a "long-term effective solution is found".
A council spokesperson would not elaborate on what those options were.
The council released a 10-year Public Toilet Plan in 2020, which is due to be updated next year, with aims to create "a comprehensive and well connected network of accessible public toilets at key locations in areas of high public activity" as well as improving safety at the facilities.