142. Behavior Design Case Study: Toilets on Busses

Sexy title, right? Pure clickbait, I know.

But Behavior Design isn’t always sexy. Sometimes it’s about the basics, and it doesn’t get much more basic than pee and poop.

That said, toilets on busses are actually a pretty fascinating study (to me, at least!). Recently, I was on two multi-hour bus rides. On the first one, the onboard toilet wasn’t functional at all. On the second, it was barely functional (no water or flush, but at least it was open).

Those trips got me thinking about bus trips that I’ve been on, and that I’ve organised – using both busses with onboard toilets and without.

I’ve taken an analytical look at several factors that I find interesting. Here’s my breakdown of why it makes sense to have a toilet onboard.

This sounds counter-intuitive, but isn’t when you think of it. By knowing that you can alwaya go to the toilet, people don’t necessarily feel the need to go at a rest stop. The uncertainty of not knowing when the next pee break will be, makes some go “Better safe than sorry!”.

Especially when stops don’t happen at rest stops with massive amounts of toilets, it takes time to get everyone “peeed off”. For every person who does their thing on the bus, there’s one less to stand in a queue at a gas station rest room.

If you’re running a nice and friendly bus trip, you’ll stop when someone says “I really need to go.”, and make sure they don’t have an accident. But it’s never just one person. Even if no one else needs to go, they go stretch, smoke and wander aimlessly until herded back in. An onboard toiler eliminates almost all of these unscheduled stops.

Some people are anxious about busses and stops and toilet breaks. For them, uncertainty is a big hassle, while the presence of the onboard toilet provides security that if it’s needed, it’s there. Even for those of us, who don’t suffer that much from worrying about it, it’s still nice to know that you have the option. Less worrying about whether to drink a soda or not, just means a more pleasant journey.

I know. It’s not exactly optimal, but sometimes you need those couple of minutes alone, and it’s hard to find privacy on a bus. The toilet isn’t heaven, but it can be a haven, whether it’s to take a phone call, cry a little or just get away from it all for a short while. It may not be an obvious need, but it’s one we all have from time to time. Even when we’re on a bus.

They’re quite simple and obvious. A bus with a toilet costs more to rent/hire. Someone has to clean it and empty it. It takes up space. If things aren’t up to snuff, it can smell as well.

Bottom line: if you organise even medium-distance travel (3–4 hours or more), I’d recommend getting a bus with a toilet, if you can manage it. And for longer routes, definitely. Unless time isn’t an issue and you like those scenic detours at highway truck stops. In that case, knock yourself out and stop like crazy.

For the remaining times, know that a bus with a toilet will save you a ton of time on travel, and make for a much nicer bus experience.

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If you want to get into contact, you can find me at clausraasted.dk.

Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.