In a move that could render the guilty-coffee-shop-granola-bar-purchase obsolete, a new app claims to have harnessed the city’s private bathrooms for public use. 

Lone Urinal Toilet
A lone urinal offers privacy… Photo: Lulu Instagram

The Lulu App, released in July, advertises itself as “the Uber of NYC” and offers a localized map of available loos for desperate New Yorkers in need of the facilities. The app lists free and public bathrooms and sells passes to “premium” johns at local bars, salons, lounges, restaurants, hotels and coffee shops, for which the cost to access generally ranges from $0.99 to $4.50 (maybe you should just buy that latte at Starbucks?). The embarrassment of having to show the maitre’d that you’re here only because you have to go, however, is priceless.

Reaction from eager pee-ers was largely positive on the brand’s recent Reddit Ask Me Anything forum. “THIS IS SO AMAZING, YES!” commented one user as another asked “Can we rate the bathrooms?” to which the Lulu team informed them that they indeed could give feedback (albeit not using a starred system). 

It appears that the app was designed not just to appease New Yorkers in need of a bio break, but also “customer-only” bathroom shops. The Lulu App partners with businesses to offer discounts to its users, encouraging them to stay and spend money at the establishment after relieving themselves. 

Lulu App Toilets
The Lulu App shows available public and private bathrooms around you in New York.

Public accessibility to restrooms across the city has been a pressing issue for years. According to a New York City comptroller report, the Big Apple ranks 93 out of 100 cities across the nation for available bathrooms in relation to its populace. The report, entitled Discomfort Stations, said that nearly 400 of the 1428 public restrooms surveyed were damaged or unusable — and ranked Midtown as a New York neighborhood whose bathrooms are most frequently deemed “unacceptable” for use. 

Though the Bloomberg administration pledged in 2008 to install 20 pay toilets across the city, most of them still haven’t been implemented. The issue has only grown more urgent throughout the pandemic. After subway stations and many bars, restaurants and coffee shops (including the once-ubiquitous Starbucks, who may soon close their facilities permanently) closed their restrooms, public urination and defecation has increased, City Council Member Gale Brewer told NY1. “For goodness’ sake, everybody has to use the bathroom,” adding that racial profiling and discrimination prevents many New Yorkers from accessing restrooms when needed. 

Brewer has taken it upon herself to advocate for expanded access — by co-sponsoring a bill from Borough President Mark Levine and Brooklyn Council Member Rita Joseph that would force the city to consider possible sites for future public restrooms and by creating her own user-friendly map of all the free public restrooms in town

Abandoned Toilet Hell's Kitchen
An abandoned toilet on W49th Street in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Phil O’Brien

But until more facilities are constructed, cross-legged New Yorkers may need to decide whether they want to risk scurrying to an out-of-order restroom — or pay up to pee. 

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