App-Powered Bathrooms Aflush in San Francisco

You’ve seen ‘Restrooms are for customers only,’ but get ready for ‘This restroom is for app users only’.

A new breed of bathroom is catering to San Francisco’s age-old issues with public restroom horrorshows. A “secure access technology” called Good2Go is now operating at a dozen San Francisco cafes, stores, and restaurants, using smartphones and QR codes to manage access to retailers’ bathrooms. You might find this an elegant digital-age take on the traditional “Restrooms are for customers only” policy, or a callous byproduct of income inequality.

SF Weekly squeezed out a few trips to Good2Go lavatories, to tinkle around these app-powered “smart bathrooms.” To our relief, the smartphone app is usually not required — but it is at one location we encountered.

The Whole Foods at Haight and Stanyan Streets has an “app users only” bathroom, but it also has a separate Good2Go bathroom that customers can access with just a slip of paper with a QR code. The “app users only” sign is on Whole Foods letterhead, and is not general Good2Go policy. 

“The Good2Go system replaces physical keys and codes in retail establishments so all of our restrooms are accessible by the app and paper QR code,” a Good2Go representative tells SF Weekly. “Consumers always have both options.”

Smartphone app users can waltz right in once they’ve scanned their code, paper slip users are generally expected to make a purchase at the establishment. While Good2Go’s FAQs state that “restroom access remains free for patrons. Ask the staff for a courtesy code,” we did encounter one establishment that refused QR slips to people who did not make a purchase.

The Good2Go app has some features that might make privacy-conscious users want to hold it. The app asks you to submit your Gmail or Facebook password, an exceedingly risky thing to do from a personal information security standpoint. But a company rep tells us via email that “Gmail/Facebook logins are not required for app use, there is an additional sign up feature.” (Hint: It’s the Sign Up button in the lower-left corner when you first download the app.) 

“We do offer industry standard Gmail and Facebook login options, it is not required for login,” the representative tells us.

These bathrooms are adequately maintained, though certainly not immaculate, and equipped with handy coat hooks and changing tables. Some were low on toilet paper and we did occasionally encounter pee on the floor, but these lavs are generally better kept than your average McDonald’s or Starbucks washrooms.

A few of these Good2Go toilets even had a working bidet, available in multiple spray modes for either your front or rear crotch regions! There is no additional charge for the bidet. Other locations have a video screen in the waiting area to tell you where you are in the queue for the loo, so you don’t have to stand in line.

The bathrooms are refreshingly high-tech, and purport to deliver a hands-free, touchless experience. The commode could be described as a “smart toilet,” or it could be described as “unnecessarily difficult to make the seat to go up or down when you want it to.”

But this technology can be handy in a pinch.  “Good2Go believes consumers should have options,” the representative says. “Good2Go restrooms located within retail establishments are a modern and secure alternative to public restrooms— not intended to be a replacement.”

Good2Go is currently free, but the company tells CNBC that they plan to roll out a paid system charging $2.99 for a day pass or a three-month subscription for $50. 

Which indicates San Francisco is crossing the pay-to-pee rubicon, where previously free bathrooms now require daily or monthly fees. This system could be prohibitive toward the poor and elderly, but it certainly means a better bathroom experience for the paid-subscription smartphone set. And if you get the sudden urge for a comforting bidet splash on your nethers, this app is your way to go.

NOTE: This post has been updated with additional comment from a Good2Go representative.

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