They’re Not Giving Up Their Restrooms Without a Fight

When a Wisconsin city decided to pull restrooms from all of its parks, the people revolted and service was quickly restored

They’re Not Giving Up Their Restrooms Without a Fight

Jim Kneiszel

Once park users get used to having access to quality and regularly serviced portable restrooms, they won’t give them up without a fight. Consider a recent story out of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where a penny-pinching city administrator and City Council suddenly decided to permanently remove 11 restrooms from nine well-used parks in the city.

The city’s community services director, Jeff Pippinger, calmly explained to the local WEAU 13 News that the city just could no longer afford the nearly $20,000 annual expenditure to pump the units. When I first saw this news report, I recall wondering how his casual attitude about taking away the restrooms would go over with the public.

Apparently the news wasn’t well-received.

Right off the bat, a volunteer organizer at the Otter Creek Dog Park voiced her concern.

“The port-a-potties have been here for many years, and we have never had them go away,” Pat Williams told the TV news. “Because (the dog park) brings in so much money, we could easily afford to sustain the port-a-potties here.”

It only took a few more weeks without restrooms for the natives to become restless. Shortly after pumping for the city-owned portable restrooms was removed from the budget, the embattled City Council did an about-face and found $20,000 to pay the pumper. It was a 9-1 vote and it looked like curtailing portable sanitation left some frayed nerves in local government, from reading an account in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram newspaper.


“The port-a-potties hit a nerve in the community, where people of many backgrounds said, ‘We need the bathrooms back!’” said City Council member Catherine Emmanuelle, licking her wounds. One alderperson hemmed and hawed about finding money in the budget, but admitted he didn’t want to take the restroom service away from residents.

What’s the lesson to be learned from this misstep by the city? Citizens more and more are becoming accustomed to the availability of portable restrooms and they don’t want to lose them.

They remember it used to be a major inconvenience to take their families to a Little League or soccer game and experience the inevitable cry of “I have to go to the bathroom!” Before your valuable service was provided to park visitors, such a pronouncement would mean a hasty retreat home and a ruined afternoon or evening. But now, thanks to restroom providers, those families can stay at the park and enjoy many community events without a worry.

That a community came to the defense of the portable sanitation industry should give all of us a feeling of satisfaction and self-worth. PROs are providing a valued service. This story should take the sting away from all of those times you’ve heard people complain about having to use portable restrooms or turn up their noses when they see your vacuum truck coming.


Upturned noses or not, the message is clear. Given the choice, your neighbors and friends will take access to a portable restroom over the alternative anytime. And I see more proof of that every year. Parks, small neighborhood events, construction sites — they seldom lack some form of a comfort station. And bigger events and commercial construction sites more often are choosing to upgrade to a better restroom trailer experience.

Public demand is driving these changes. The kind of demand they learned about in Eau Claire government awhile back. And you can help drive that demand even further.


First, by looking for places where the public will benefit from portable sanitation and notifying local decision-makers, whether that is local government or a private organization. When you see a biking or hiking trail, dog park, boat launch or downtown with few public restroom options, say something. Explain the benefits of providing portable sanitation to tourism, park usage and public health.

Second, be sure you always provide the best service possible when cleaning restrooms. Keep in mind that one bad user experience has as much impact on your products and service as 100 positive experiences. It might not seem fair, but people don’t soon forget opening a door and seeing an overflowing or odorous unit. Don’t walk away from that restroom service unless you’ve done everything in your power to make it sparkling and sanitary for the next user.

Third, always strive to upsell the portable sanitation experience. If you don’t currently offer a hand sanitizer or hand-wash sink in every unit, consider making that change. If you only offer units with drop tanks, consider upgrading to flushing units, at least for special event and wedding service. If you don’t already have a restroom trailer, look for opportunities to capitalize on that enhanced service offering. And please promote the use of ADA units whenever possible to aid our potential customers with special needs.


Whatever you do, don’t let a few complaints or setbacks get you down. Even though it doesn’t always seem like it, please know a lot of people out there value your professionalism and the services you provide. If you ever lose sight of that, remember the folks in Eau Claire and how they went to bat to keep the portable restrooms in their parks.


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