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#Come on along, get on the floor, everybody lock your toilet door - John C. Kirk

Mar. 11th, 2010

03:15 pm - #Come on along, get on the floor, everybody lock your toilet door

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On the train this morning, three people in a row failed to lock the toilet door, and two of them then got caught with their pants down (in both the English and American senses of the word).

When I got on the train, I sat down near the bike area, and there was a guy standing outside the toilet. The toilet was unlocked (i.e. the "Open" button was lit up), but a few minutes later I heard a flushing sound from inside, then a woman came out. I've seen this happen before, and normally I'd show them where the "Lock" button is, but in this case I didn't want to seem as though I was queue-jumping.

The guy went in, and closed the door, but he also left it unlocked. Another woman then waited outside, so that she could use it after him. While he was in there, a third woman approached: I told her that there was someone in there, but she'd already pressed the button, so the door slid open. I told the guy inside that he needed to lock the door, which he did, and he thanked me when he left.

By this point, the third woman had left, so the second woman entered (the one who'd been waiting outside all the time). She'd seen and heard everything that happened, but she also left the door unlocked when she went in. While she was in there, another man approached: I told him that there was someone inside (as did the guy sitting opposite me), but again it was too late because he'd already pressed the button. When he realised the problem, and the door started to slide open, he tried to close it by pressing the button again, but I told him that the person inside had to do that. The door closed by itself, but she still didn't lock it. When she came out, she didn't say anything, so it's possible that she didn't speak English. However, if you're familiar with the basic concept of locking a door, and you see someone else get caught out, I'd think that this would offer a good incentive to look for the locking mechanism.

I'm surprised that people seem to have so much trouble with this. Then again, I often have to tell people to press the button so that they can open the main door at a station (after they fail to notice the beeping noise and flashing light), so I guess that there's a general lack of initiative going on.

On the flipside, I had some trouble the last time I took the bus from Oxford to London. I locked the door, but a drunk guy tried to force it open from the outside. I held onto the handle (so that he could feel resistance) and called out "Occupied!", but he still kept tugging. In the end, I let him open it so that he could see me, then he let me finish. When I came out, he apologised, and said that he thought the lock was stuck, so I'm guessing that he used a coin/screwdriver to get in.

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Comments:

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From:susannahf
Date:March 11th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
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Was it one of the ones where you have to press an electric button to lock it (like on the virgin trains)? Those are extremely counter-intuitive, although I agree that someone who has *seen* someone get caught out would make a bit of effort to figure out the locking mechanism. While it is non-intuitive, it's still not rocket-science.
Those loos are particularly difficult if you are unable to read the instructions/button labels (e.g. non-English or, worse still, blind - I know they have braille, but you can only read the braille if you can find it...) as you might assume, logically, that anyone pressing the "close door" button on the inside of the toilet would naturally want the door to lock, and that any half-decent designer would have anticipated this. Sadly, the designer was significantly less than half-decent, although they did figure out that pressing the "open door" button when the door is locked should unlock it.
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From:johnckirk
Date:March 11th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
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Yup, that's the design - there are three buttons inside the loo (Open/Close/Lock). As you say, it would make sense to just have two buttons, although there is a visual cue (the Lock/Open buttons light up after you press Close). In this case, I'm not sure whether they pressed the Close button or just let the door close by itself; if the latter, you wouldn't want the door to automatically lock if the loo is empty.

In terms of design, I think it would be better to put the buttons closer to the toilet: in a situation like this, there's no way to press them without standing up, which involves a bit more exposure.
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From:susannahf
Date:March 11th, 2010 05:22 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, you would only want it to lock automatically if you press the "close" button, so you probably want a lock button anyway, and like you say, there are visual clues for the dim of mind (although possibly not so good for the dim of sight).
Or, y'know, what's actually wrong with a good, old-fashioned manual lock that people understand and can use? And won't fail when the power goes? I've known those doors to open of their own accord after having been locked when the power fails - it's a failsafe, but when the power only fails for a second, it's blooming embarrassing for the poor person on the loo.
And yes, the buttons, or at least a second emergency set, should definitely be next to the loo, not as far as is possible from it!
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From:susannahf
Date:March 11th, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)
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In fact, you could be really cunning and fit a normal bolt-style lock to those doors but have it trip a switch when the bolt was in the "locked" position (magnets would be a good way to do this I think). People would understand how to use this, and it could be integrated into the existing "toilet occupied" indicator system. But here's the cunning thing: because the door *slides*, it wouldn't mechanically lock the door - it would only prevent the "open door" buttons from working (electronically). Possibly only the outside one. You could then also have an easy way to rescue trapped or ill people from the toilet by fitting a key override on the outside and giving the guard a key. Job done.
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From:johnckirk
Date:March 11th, 2010 06:56 pm (UTC)
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That sounds like a good idea. I was poking around on the web, and came across this page. The second penultimate comment says: "I understand how you feel but we had many problems with people pressing the CLOSE door button as they leave and the door will lock when no one is in therefore bearing it unusable." I'm not sure whether that was deliberate or accidental, but either way it makes sense to only lock the door from the inside after it has closed. The sliding thing that you suggested should solve that problem nicely.

Coming back to your earlier comment ("you can only read the braille if you can find it"), Neil Gaiman wrote about a similar situation in his blog. Basically, a blind guy needed to use the loo, so someone pressed the "Close" button for him, but when he'd finished he was stuck inside because he couldn't find the "Open" button. (Gaiman rescued him after everyone else ignored him banging on the door.)

Edited at 2010-03-11 06:57 pm (UTC)
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 12th, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
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It happened to me even though I had pressed the lock button! The best retort when it opens on you is "good morning" that usually makes them dissappear fast!
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