mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Why are public restrooms free? (an econoblog)

You know, I like to read econ blogs like Marginal Revolution that always ask broad economics questions and then pose hypothises to answer them. So I thought I would take a try at it, even though my entire econ experience consists of 6 undergrad classes.

(note - I'm trying to keep this post clean, but it does mention bodily functions, so if you don't like that kind of thing, grow up.)

I was driving back to Baltimore today. Somewhere west of Allentown, my stomach started feeling not-too-good. There isn't a whole lot around that area, so I figured I'd keep driving until I hit a gas station about 20 miles down where I usually stop. By the time I got there I felt my stomach was about to explode.

At this point, I would have probably paid any amount to use a toilet. After all, I was in major discomfort. Yet I was able to stop at the Hamburg Mobil and use a toilet free of charge.

It's kind of like the water/diamond paradox. Diamonds are unnecessary, yet expensive, while water is essential to life and practically free (except when it comes in fancy green glass bottles). But water is easily available, and diamonds are not (thanks in part to DeBeers), so water costs next to nothing.

So why are public bathrooms free?

1)laws - I'm guessing at least some places have public health laws that require public restrooms in certain businesses. If that's the case, end of discussion.

2)large variability of willingness to pay Sure, mad anthony might have been about to explode today, but most people at most times can hold it. The fact that most people are unwilling to pay much makes it too difficult to price discriminate and easier just to make bathrooms free.

3)short-term sales - companies are hoping customers will stop to use the bathroom, and stay to purchase gas/drinks/ect.

4)goodwill - even if a customer doesn't buy anything on the day they use the bathroom, they may think well of the company in the future. They also may hold against a company it's not offering, or charging for, bathrooms when they needed them most.

If you have any further thoughts, or just want to call me disgusting for making a post out of a stomachache, feel free to post in the comments.


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