An Ombudsman probe into mis-management of public toilets has revealed paltry fines dished out to tardy contractors, including one $54 fine for a contractor who delayed repair work by 125 days and another $2 fine for a 16-day delay in works.
“Delay in works completion would cause partial closure of public toilet facilities, and bring inconvenience to users,” says Ombudsman Winnie Chu Wai-yin revealing the investigation today.
Fines are set by Architectural Services Department (ArchSD) which manages contractors for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD).
Aside from very low fines for poor quality or delayed work, the Ombudsman found poor communication between the two departments. “After making requests, FEHD would not regularly enquire about works progress and ArchSD would not regularly update FEHD on works progress either.”
The Ombudsman slated FEHD for its poor record keeping on contractor performance. “The FEHD Headquarters hardly knows the number of contractors having rendered sub-standard cleansing services, which contractors are the more frequent offenders, and the reasons for their non-compliance with service requirements. As the management department of public toilets, FEHD should strengthen its analysis of the problems and devise specific improvement measures to enhance the effectiveness of its monitoring system,” says the report.
But at the same time, the Ombudsman said data supplied from ArchSd showed around 100% of public toilet repairs were completed by a specified deadline. “We do not have doubt on the accuracy of the data,” she said. “The data therein [the ArchSD computer system] are plain and clear.”
The Ombudsman also called on FEHD to update its Toilet Handbook, last updated in 2011, enhance criteria for toilet refurbishment, and reclassify very busy public toilets.
At present, toilets with more than 300 visitors a day are classed as “high utilisation”, with no further categorisation for busier facilities.
“In terms of maintenance, repair, inspections and refurbishment, we consider it unreasonable for FEHD to have treated all the 248 ‘high-utilisation public toilets’ with visitor counts ranging from 300 to 3,000 a day in the same way,” says the Ombudsman report.
Public toilet access is a key metric when measuring walkability and district liveability quality. Researchers in the US have claimed public toilets are the “missing link” to increase public transport and walking in cities.
“Encouraging people out of cars and onto public transport or cycling and walking will not be successful if people cannot find toilet facilities within the wider built environment” wrote Kate Washington of Portland University in 2014.