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MOSCOW, January 22. /ITAR-TASS/. And now for something completely different from the habitual daily news routine — a subject all of us seldom mention aloud but have to give thought to several times a day, to say the least. The question where to look for such an essential modern convenience as a clean public toilet very often visits the minds of idle holiday-makers stampeding from one tourist must to another and of most Russian urban dwellers whenever they have to stay outdoors for too long. To tell the truth, any guest visiting Russia these days will agree that the public toilet network in Moscow is far from ideal, let alone the state of affairs in other Russian cities. However, the ice seems to have been broken just recently. Some places in Moscow now boast high-tech impeccable toilet booths. The problem is getting inside may prove a real poser.
According to the city authorities’ statistics disclosed last September, Moscow has a total of 3,112 public toilets, half of the amount available in London or Berlin. The city itself owns just 532 — 262 stationary ones, built in the first half of last century, and 270 mobile modules. The rest 2,697 are pay booths — the primitive plastic boxes painted blue.
In September 2012, an urban construction and land allocation commission under Mayor Sergei Sobyanin approved of a pattern of placing public toilets in Moscow. According to the Moscow authorities their number is to grow by a third by 2016 — to 4,319 pieces. The authorities plan to open 853 new sites with budget money. By 2016, about 6.5 billion rubles ($200 million) will be spent for the purpose.
The primitive plastic booths have been gradually giving way to new generation toilets with hot running water, mirrors, liquid soap and even “emergency” buttons. This year a total of 1,200 new toilets are to crop up.
In January 2013, the housing and utilities services department held an open bidding contest for contracts to deploy toilet modules in the city. Two lots, 1,207 sites each, were awarded to the best bidders and some of them have already emerged in the centre of Moscow. At the end of last March Moscow saw the advent of first new generation toilets with an automated self-cleaning function, soap, hand dryers and alarm buttons.
For the convenience of Muscovites and guests an interactive map of public toilets is available on the portal of the urban department of the housing and utilities services, alongside with the schedule.
However, high-tech European level toilets have turned out too hard for the average user to use. The Moscow daily Moskovsky Komsomolets says puzzled passers-by eyeing the shining golden modules in dismay are a frequent sight. Sometimes even small groups gather for an improvised brainstorming session, trying to cope with the unfamiliar high-tech gadgets. The point is the modern latrines’ electronics is sometimes beyond the grasp of an average city dweller or a city guest.
The daily’s reporter, too, tried to offer a helping hand to a guest worker from Uzbekistan, Alim, in his attempts to get inside a state-of-the art lavatory. Alim had already spent a while in front of the module’s monitor, paid 40 rubles, got card in return, but the electronic lock would not let him in.
“The instructions to follow look simple. First you pay 40 rubles (slightly more than one greenback) for one “access” (the term one finds in the operating memo on the screen), 60 rubles for two, 90 rubles, for three or 150 rubles for four. You get your card, put it against the ticket validator and — in you go.” However, everything has proved easier said than done. Several times the card was applied to a wrong spot with the net effect of 110 rubles going down the drain.
“Ours is the 21st century, an age of high technologies and non-cash settlements. We have been trying to keep abreast of the latest advances in science and engineering,” says Viktor Katalin, an aide to the CEO of the company in charge of placing toilet modules. “I do agree some senior citizens, who grew up back in the Soviet era, may have problems with getting in. As for foreign visitors, there is an English language menu.”
Another daily, the Komsomolskaya Pravda, says tramps have set their eyes on the toilet booths to have put the smart electronics out of order within thirty minutes after they opened. Formally, looking after each outlet is the cleaner’s duty, but apparently the staff does that only in the mornings and in the evenings, when the toilets are opened and then locked again for the night.
The Moscow committee for tourism says the onslaught of homeless hobos has occurred because there are too few toilets to go around. Promises have been made to put things in order.
However, there is an alternative to special public toilets, which incidentally is widely spread in European countries. There are toilets at all public catering joints and super- and mega-markets. On instructions from the Moscow Mayor’s Office dating back to 2005 all facilities inside the Golden Ring of Moscow tourist and recreation zone are obliged to keep their toilets open to anyone who may drop in, even if the visitor is not going to buy or order anything. However, most cafes and restaurants agree to let people use their restrooms out of pity, and not on instructions from the authorities, if at all.
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