Each year, Boston hosts some 12 million tourists. Last year’s crop alone spent $15 billion in the city. About a third of these visitors walk the Freedom Trail — yet, as the Globe recently reported, they won’t find a public restroom for the entire 1.5-mile stretch through the North End. To be a good host, Boston must offer visitors the most basic amenities. Public restrooms top that list.
Right now, tourists are relying on local businesses, generous residents, and — at times — nearby walls for relief. The Old North Church has also opened two toilets to the public, asking for $1 donation. Users happily pay up, which suggests that paid toilets, often seen in Europe, could be a more permanent solution. Still, the first step should be reopening the public restrooms at the former Michelangelo School, on Hull Street, which served as a nonprofit visitor center until 2008.
The necessary infrastructure is there — previously, more than 800 people used the way station each day — but the visitor center closed when state tourism grants dried up during the recession. Those funds should be restored, and the city should also chip in to get the restrooms operating this summer. Charging a nominal fee of 25 to 50 cents, as other city-run facilities do, would help reduce costs. The North End’s shops and historic sites should benefit, because the availability of rest rooms nearby would allow visitors to stay longer. Outward shows of hospitality don’t come instinctively to some New Englanders, but public restrooms are an essential comfort.