I have blogged previously on this obscure and odd topic, but staying in Europe for extended periods as I am doing now (based in Florence, Italy for the semester, but traveling around giving lectures) always reminds me of it. Plus, I have new observations on some of the supposed explanations.
So, the paradox is that in the supposedly more market capitalist US, there simply are no pay toilets, at least not overtly, although there were some a half century ago, usually with slot for coins on the doors of them, not somebody sitting at the entrance taking money for you even to get into one. However, in supposedly more socialist Europe, at least some of its countries, certainly including France, Italy, and Russia, one finds this latter in many public toilets: someone sitting at the entrance taking money before you can enter at all. Why?
One explanation I have heard is that it is an employment preserving device. However, increasingly I see those people being replaced by slots for coins in the newer ones at the entrances.
Another is that it is necessary to pay for their upkeep. Well, I was just in one the other day in Siena that had the woman out front taking money, but it was in terrible shape without even seats on the toilets. Yes, I grant that the newer ones are usually in good shape. But, this does not answer why we do not do this in the US. Indeed, in Virginia in the last few years the rest areas on the interstates were closed for awhile due to funding shortages (since reopened), but not a single solitary soul suggested publicly that maybe the resolution was to make people pay for using them.
In short, I do not see either the employment or paying for their upkeep arguments as holding much water. This remains basically a mystery to me. Somehow in the US we think releaving oneself for free is a divine right, even as audiences laugh and cheer at the idea of people dying who do not pay for health insurance, while in much of Europe it is taken for granted that one must pay to releave oneself, even as they have universal health insurance coverage.
BTW, I do recognize that de facto private toilets are often for pay in that businesses will make them available only to paying customers. But one finds this in about equal proportions in both the US and most of Europe as near as I can tell.