Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Friday, 27 January 2006

Paris to get free public toilets

A woman walks past an automatic public toilet in Paris.
Parisian public toilets will become free to use

Spending a penny in Paris will no longer cost a centime under plans to make the capital's public toilets free.

More than 400 automatic conveniences will soon cost nothing to use, an official said on Friday.

The move is aimed at preventing people from urinating in the streets and helping poorer citizens who cannot afford the 40 euro centimes (27 pence) charged for using a public lavatory.

The proposal requires formal approval at a city council meeting next week.

Dirty habits

"It's a service that the city must deliver to all those who come to Paris," Green Party city councillor Yves Contassot told the BBC News website.

"It's also a question of hygiene. No-one who urinates in the streets will be able to use the excuse that they have to pay to use the public toilets," added Mr Contassot, who is in charge of the city's environmental and cleaning policy.

Anyone caught taking a leak in the street in Paris faces a fine of 183 euros (125), rising to 450 euros (308) for repeat offenders.

Image conscious

He said he expected the plan to take effect in February, with all 420 of the self-cleaning public toilets in Paris becoming free to use by the middle of the month.

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, one of the city's best known landmarks
Visitors to Paris can expect cleaner streets under the plans

Looking after the city's image is an important task for Paris officials.

France is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, attracting some 75 million visitors in 2005.

The city's left-wing council had previously made it free to use 20 automatic restrooms located near homeless hostels.

It had also stopped charging people to use 24 conveniences in metro stations and about 140 lavatories in parks and gardens.

But public toilets in train stations are not managed by the city of Paris and will not be affected by the new plan.

New toilets

City authorities have renegotiated their contract with the company that looks after Paris' 420 automatic toilets, Semup, which is a subsidiary of the French advertising display giant Decaux.

Cleaning the public lavatories currently costs the city 6 million euros (4 million) a year.

But the new contract will cost the city less money, despite the extra maintenance work Semup will likely have to perform as the number of users increases, Mr Contassot said.

He said that was because prices had been inflated under the previous contract, signed under a different city administration.

Officials also want to replace the "sanisettes" with more attractive public conveniences, Mr Contassot said.

They have announced a tender for a new generation of lavatory that will be accessible to disabled people, and will include an exterior tap for drinking water.

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