City residents and tourists are human (generally), so they occasionally need to use a bathroom
. You might think it's easy to find public bathrooms, but you'd be wrong.
Sure, you could use the facilities of a cafe, restaurant, store, etc. -- if one is nearby, if it's not reserved for staff and customers, and if it's clean. Women have a bit more of a problem with scuzzy bathrooms than men, because they typically have to sit. Enough said.
But in New York, POSH Stow and Go aims to help -- for a price. The company plans to open its first members-only bathroom and storage facility in midtown Manhattan in June. The facility will be near Grand Central Terminal and will feature private bathrooms with touchless faucets and toilet flushers, baby changing areas, and "luxury" private showers. The facilities will be cleaned after each user.
In addition, Stow and Go will provide storage areas and a small lounge.
The concept isn't to while away the hours at Stow and Go, but rather to use the facilities and then head out. The company plans to open other locations in New York this year.
Stow and Go will charge a $15 annual membership fee and will offer three monthly plans: $24 for three days, $42 for six days, and $60 for 10 days. Up to three relatives under the age of 18 may accompany an adult member, and the plans may be shared with others.
"I'm a germaphobe and I don't like dirty bathrooms -- it grosses me out. But these are great because they are cleaned after every use," Wayne Parks, the company's founder, told the New York Post. Also, "it's a resting place for visitors who don't have homes or offices in Manhattan. It's a place to drop something off if you're in a jam."
I suspect some people will shell out for Stow and Go (I'd pay for the luxury on an airplane), but will there be enough takers to produce a successful ongoing business? I don't know.
After all, there are alternatives, and some cities are testing new public bathrooms. Portland, Ore., has a free service called the Portland Loo. The freestanding facilities are available 24 hours a day in seven locations, and they're cleaned twice daily.
The Atlantic Cities says Portland examined other cities' public bathrooms to ensure it avoided potential mistakes. For example, the bathroom features a cold water faucet outside the Loo, because the city doesn't want homeless people washing their clothes inside the bathroom. Also, the Loo's steel construction and graffiti-resistant paint are designed to resist abuse.
Portlandians seem downright proud of their Loo, which is patented and copyrighted and has a Twitter account and Facebook page. The city will sell you one for $90,000, excluding shipping and other charges.
In the Paris Metro, bathrooms are "clean, bright and operated by public employees who seem to do quite well with the tips grateful tourists leave behind," John D. Thomas writes in the Chicago Tribune. Tracy Antonioli of The Suitcase Scholar blog gives Quebec City's public bathrooms a "oui, oui" thumbs up for being well advertised and clean.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter signed a law mandating gender-neutral bathrooms, in addition to traditional male/female ones, in new or renovated city buildings. Transgendered people, for example, are sometimes embarrassed to enter a male- or female-only facility.
However, many cities have few or no public bathrooms. A few that have tried to develop city facilities, like Seattle and San Francisco, haven't done very well. It's hard to provide public bathrooms that are always clean and in working condition.
The Internet has been helping with websites and smartphone apps that provide the locations of public and tourist-friendly bathrooms.
People who live and work in an urban center, never travel, and always visit that same locations might think public bathrooms are a minor problem for cities. But anyone who commutes, travels, or shops in distant locations realizes that finding a convenient, clean, and free bathroom is important -- and perhaps a privilege worth paying for.
— Alan Reiter, President, Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing