💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
Philadelphia doesn’t have any public bathrooms. But thanks to a 29-year-old data analyst, now there’s an app that could help you find a place to go.
Brewerytown resident Hugo Bucci started writing code in July. By August, he’d published the first version of Where2Go.
The iPhone app — he’s still working on Android and web versions — is like Google Maps for bathrooms. When you open it, you’re presented with the Philadelphia street grid, dotted with tiny toilet icons. Locations of the little lavatories are crowd-sourced. Many were posted by Bucci, others by the roughly 200 people who’d downloaded the app when he spoke with Billy Penn.
“My present vision for the app is to be a repository of safe bathrooms people can find and use in Philly,” Bucci said. “Being able to find a safe place to go to the bathroom should be a public right for all people, but it is currently not treated as one.”
The lack of free public bathrooms can have consequences beyond just forcing you to cross your legs. Public transit riders often have to walk past defecation as they commute to work. Without accessible toilets in Kensington, people experiencing homelessness often go outside, increasing the chances of a hepatitis A outbreak.
It can also be a priority for travelers when they’re deciding where to spend tourism dollars.
Despite that, municipal bathrooms aren’t a thing in Philadelphia, or in most U.S. cities and towns. Earlier this year, Philly scaled back the pandemic porta-potties it had placed near City Hall, which saw 1,400 weekly uses. Few city parks and plazas have them. They’re not on SEPTA trains or stations. They aren’t really anywhere.
Many Philadelphians have ways of dealing with the issue — especially if they have kids — and maintain their own internal map of emergency restrooms. Where2Go aims to share all this knowledge for the greater good.
Also, not all free bathrooms are created equal, so Bucci’s app allows users to rate and review each location.
The ACME at Passyunk Square? That got rated 1.5 stars. It “works in a pinch,” per the reviewer.
The bathroom at the 19th and Chestnut bar Drinker’s Pub is, apparently, worth 2.5 stars. “You know what it is,” the reviewer posted.
Pro-tip: UPenn’s Houston Hall at 34th and Spruce seems to be the gold standard for free toilets. The reviewer gave it a full 5 stars. “Clean bathroom. Do not need to be a student, no guards at dining hall,” they wrote.
Bucci, who’s been working at Comcast for the better part of a year, got the idea for the app after enjoying a cheesesteak from Jim’s. He has IBS, and on the way home, he suddenly had to flee the El at 13th Street and run to Macy’s to relieve himself.
“I know there are many others like me,” Bucci said. “And I decided to do something about it.”
It’s free to download Where2Go. To use it, you’ll have to enter an email address and set up an account with a username and the verification code sent to you (note that it might get sent to spam).
Right now, the mapped toilets are mostly concentrated in Center City and University City, with a few popping up in Brewerytown and South Philly. Gaining more active users, Bucci said, would mean more bathrooms shown on the map and more complete reviews.
“If we had even a small core of users who frequent bathrooms in the city and are diligent about adding them,” Bucci said, “we could make a huge difference for everyone else who downloads it.”
Have thoughts on the app? Bucci is taking suggestions via email.