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Is the Payphone Dead?

Cliff posted more than 13 years ago | from the a-premature-death-knell? dept.

Technology 259

m_evanchik asks: "The Net Economy has an article about phonebooths serving double duty as cell-phone antenna stations. I hate to see pay phones disappear and this sounds like a nice way to keep 'em alive a little longer. Heck, hacking pay phones is where it all started for the likes of Cap'n crunch. Is the pay phone a dying breed, still a necessity, or do we need more hacks like these to keep 'em alive? I say keep 'em around just for nostalgia's sake." While cellular and wireless technologies are making massive strives, personally I think it's too early to call for the end of the payphone. Heck, even with PCS, I still get dropped calls and, in more circumstances that I'd care to admit, I'm just plain unable to dial out from certain areas. This is not a problem with payphones. I'm especially grateful for the ones you find in your out-of-the-way places, like your average subway station. How do the rest of you feel?

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Re:Of course you need payphones! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#281153)

And besides, where would Clark Kent change into his Superman uniform?

What's that you say? There haven't been any phone booths since when? Oh, nevermind, I'll just go back to sleep now.

Exactly (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#281158)

Otherwise, what would happen to the people like those at the Payphone Project [] ? Their site is truly amusing.

Their comments section is worth taking a look at too. I've posted links to one story there in particular on Slashdot in the past because it's hilarious:
Pay Phone Event #1, Atlantic City, 1977 []

Here where i live... (3)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#281159)

In sweden all payphones are to be removed within a few years (according to the teleco) because their usage has dropped so much the maintance costs is higher than the earings they cash in (thanks to the cellular phones)

Still useful, but adaptable (2)

strredwolf (532) | more than 13 years ago | (#281160)

I was at the New Carrolton Amtrak station, waiting for a commuter train north, and it was snowing. I needed to know the current conditions up in Baltimore, but didn't want to waste the prepaid cell phone. I had an account with Yahoo! By Phone, and dialed up the 1-800-44-YAHOO number into my account...

It was snowing. Heavy.

Quite useful, those payphones. But if we shrink the payphone tech to put in a cellphone transceiver, we can reuse the space. Worth it!

WolfSkunks for a better Linux Kernel

Re:Phones "cause crime" (5)

sjames (1099) | more than 13 years ago | (#281165)

Here in the city I live in, pay phones were removed because it was alleged that all they do is draw drug dealers and prostitutes.

The people in the city should be careful of that sort of reasoning! Compare the number of times you've seen hookers or dealers hanging out on a corner in the city vs. a rural area.

Conclusion: cities attract crime! Demolish them immediatly!!!

Re:Pay Phones (2)

garcia (6573) | more than 13 years ago | (#281173)

not everyone WANTS to have one either. Someone said in an earlier post that the city said they attract prostitutes and drug dealers.. I believe that drug dealers use wireless more often than not..

I find a ringing phone annoying, a ringing payphone even more annoying, but a ringing cell phone is my pet peeve. If you are one of those assholes that leaves it on during class and it goes off just b/c your friend is driving to another class and is too impatient to wait till afterwards to talk to you, then you deserve to go the way that payphones may go! ;-)

save the pay phone! (2)

DarkClown (7673) | more than 13 years ago | (#281175)

i love walking by a ringing payphone and answering. usually it's someone trying to figure out why someone is one the phone.
fun things to do (if male, invert if female):
if it's a man get enraged and act like other guys husband, whose wife has a travelinng job. or, if it's a woman, act gay and etc..... or just discuss coxswain

Anonymity & Pre-Paid Phone Cards (1)

Llama Keeper (7984) | more than 13 years ago | (#281176)

Payphones are great if you want to make a call and reduce the chance of people knowing who you are. (Like calling the cops for a domestic violence incident on your neighbors and being able to give a fake name)

Payphones are also nice when you have to make a long call and are roaming, $.75 a minute can get really pricy compared to $.05-$.10 a minute charge on my trusty AT&T pre-paid phone card. Even with connection fees a pre-paid phone card can save you a bundle (some of us still have &h!tty Analog Cell Service, THANKS VERIZON YOU SUCK)

Not everyone can afford phone service (1)

jycheng (8299) | more than 13 years ago | (#281177)

Just a reminder that not everyone can afford telephone service at home, much less cell phone service. I remember when payphone prices increased from 20 cents to 35 cents (in California at least), that it was a major issue to low income families. Imagine if your telephone costs almost doubled overnight?

The phone company wanst them gone (1)

md_doc (8431) | more than 13 years ago | (#281178)

I am not sure where I read this; but I remember 4 years ago reading an article about how phone companies were taking pay phones out of a lot of areas and not putting pay phones in where people were requesting. The writer, if he did research or not I will never know, wrote that they were removing the phones and not putting new ones to force people to buy cell phones--which they obviously make more money off of due to the money fee.

My philosophy was always; why get a cell phone when a pay phone is always a few feet away, but it seems like lately when I look for a pay phone they are never around when I need one so I had to break down and get a cell phone. I pay some 40 dollars a month with about 8 of that going to some kind of taxes or another and I use maybe 100 minutes of my 500 minutes. It seems like if their plan was to get more people to buy cell phones by taking out the pay phones it worked here.

Re:Payphones == anonymity (1)

BrookHarty (9119) | more than 13 years ago | (#281180)

What anonymity? All those calls are logged. And pay phones that are suspect for drug use are often wiretapped legally for a suspect. But your calls are innocently recorded also. (-;

Re:Phones "cause crime" (5)

BrookHarty (9119) | more than 13 years ago | (#281181)

Timmy go dial 911, mommys hurt and needs medical attention. Opps, no payphone, no cell coverage.

This is not a rumor, but some cell site techs wont fix sites at night. So if your mobile base station is down in east LA, its staying down till the next business day.

Re:Pay Phones (5)

BrookHarty (9119) | more than 13 years ago | (#281182)

Dont forget, good credit gets you 10 cents a minute, poor or no credit gets you a pre-paid phone with 35 cents a minute. So even if phones are free, the minutes will cost more for lower income brackets, thus keeping cell phones out of lower income urban areas.

pay phone internet access (1)

Cheeze (12756) | more than 13 years ago | (#281191)

i think the phone companies should partner up with or other widely-used communications service. i know if i was walking through the city and saw a pay phone internet access station that had a screen for me to send e-mail or something, i would probably pay something like $.75/minute or something. it would be great to use to get to, some e-mail, or other stuff like that in a pinch.

and to satisfy the topic of the original post, i would greatly increase the popularity of pay phone use.

Anonymity is necessary sometimes (4)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 13 years ago | (#281193)

If I had knowledge of the details of a crime, I would only call the police from a pay phone to give them a tip. My cooperation would be predicated upon my anonymity. If they know who I am, they can question me as to how I know these details. Maybe I witnessed this crime while I was getting a hummer from the Chief's 19 year old daughter in my truck.

If I couldn't be anonymous, I'd keep my mouth shut.

If payphones are eliminated, you'll see tips to law enforcement take a steep dive.


Here ya go (1)

Photon Ghoul (14932) | more than 13 years ago | (#281196)

Look here [] on eBay.

Wait! (2)

dar (15755) | more than 13 years ago | (#281197)

We're gonna need those hard-lines for the Matrix sequels.

Re:Off-topic - buying phonebooth? (1)

Pope (17780) | more than 13 years ago | (#281198)


Just, uh, "take it in for servicing." :)


Freedom is Slavery! Ignorance is Strength! Monopolies offer Choice!

Re:Phones "cause crime" (5)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 13 years ago | (#281199)

> Here in the city I live in, pay phones were removed because it was alleged that all they do is draw drug dealers and prostitutes.

And sadly, crime actually got worse, because they had unwittingly destroyed Superman's natural habitat.


Guess that's easy to say (1)

Rombuu (22914) | more than 13 years ago | (#281202)

I say keep 'em around just for nostalgia's sake

Yeah, I guess that's pretty easy to say if you aren't paying for them.

Re:Keep the payphones! (1)

skajohan (29019) | more than 13 years ago | (#281207)

Well, duh, what would keep you from having the cell phone turned off when you don't feel like being accessible?

Re:Here where i live... (1)

Wizzu (30521) | more than 13 years ago | (#281210)

Same in Finland. Next year the currency is going to be changed to Euros, and the cost of converting all the coin-based payphones to the new coinage is simply not justifiable for the telcos. Some payphones that take pre-paid cards (and possibly credit cards?) will remain, mostly in the urban areas, but the rest will be removed.

Personally, I'm sad to see them go, but I can understand it's not supportable anymore. The usage is very low anyway. I can't remember when I last used a payphone, or even saw someone using a payphone.

jack-in points... (1)

realyendor (32515) | more than 13 years ago | (#281212)

We still need more pay phones with RJ-11 jacks for modems. (Or even better, RJ-45 for ethernet!)

Just Part of a Larger Trend (1)

west (39918) | more than 13 years ago | (#281214)

Unfortunately, unlike comparisons between credit cards and cash, phone booths are expensive to maintain. If there isn't a critical mass using them and there's no public will to see them maintained, they'll disappear.

This, of course, is unfortunate for those unable to afford a cell phone. However, this is just part of a larger trend. When a significant segment of the population is wealthy enough to afford a service, it is soon no longer considered a "necessary" service.

Sort of like schools. Once a large enough part of the population is sending their children to private schools, there's very little public will to pay for a decent system for the few students remaining.

Re:Pay phones good, cell phones evil (2)

MadAhab (40080) | more than 13 years ago | (#281216)

Sure I have, I just don't buy the logic of blaming the tool instead of the tool-user.

I've also had plenty of people ruin movies just because they wouldn't shut the hell up (and a few awful ones rescued by funny hecklers). And many years of driving in Boston taught me that there are more ways to cut people off than you can shake a tire iron at; cell-using drivers can't even make a dent in THAT body count.

I stay out of malls, so I never have the last problem. I just look at the mic users like they are talking to themselves.

Boss of nothin. Big deal.
Son, go get daddy's hard plastic eyes.

Off-topic - buying phonebooth? (1)

ElJefe (41718) | more than 13 years ago | (#281219)

Does anyone know where I can buy a phonebooth, preferably used? It doesn't need to be operational...


They have only themselves to blame (3)

weave (48069) | more than 13 years ago | (#281222)

Several years ago, pay phones were deregulated and the curse of COCOTS (customer owned coin-operated telephones) appeared.

They generally took advantage of unsuspecting users who ended up with huge charges when making calling card calls.

"Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." People soon learned to defend themselves by dialing 800 #s and using their own carrier calling cards to make calls. COCOT owners cried the blues and got the current 35/cent reimbursement for toll free calls. Many of them resorted to dirty tricks, like blocking 800-CALL-ATT for example.

I remember about 5 years ago thinking "Soon, everyone will be carrying a cell phone and these scum will all go broke and I'll be jumping for joy."

So, now I'm jumping for joy.

I do realize some people rely on pay phones on the corner since they can't afford their own, but I think those numbers are pretty slim. Cell phones are getting pretty cheap now. All pay phones have to do is charge reasonable prices and they'll be fine. I've seen one near here that advertises 25 cents local calls (cheaper than RBOCs) and 25 cents/min anywhere in U.S. via coins. That's a good thing. I know what the charge is ahead of time, I pay as I go, and I can evaluate whether or not it's cheaper than my cell phone easily.

Re:Pay phones very much needed (2)

CrayDrygu (56003) | more than 13 years ago | (#281228)

Also, think of all of the people, like me, who don't pay $45 or more a month to afford the "luxury" of being interrupted all of the time by a portable ringing nuisance.
I'm amazed at the number of people who forget (ignore?) that the things can be turned off. I can respect you not wanting one. But don't use a lame excuse to defend that, there's plenty of better reasons you can come up with.

Not to mention you can get pre-paid service in most areas. It's what I use, and I love it. I pay about half of what a monthly plan would cost, since I don't use it much, and with no obligation.


Re:Wha....? (2)

CrayDrygu (56003) | more than 13 years ago | (#281229)

Two theories:

1) The law in question only applies to "normal" service and not pre-pay. This would make sense when you consider that normal service involves a contract, and minors cannot enter into a legal contract.

2) Just because Verizon doesn't have a restriction...


Major upgrades needed (1)

SnakeStu (60546) | more than 13 years ago | (#281232)

I still see a need for pay phones in general, but I think they need some serious upgrades. First on my list would be a revised interface to completely avoid any need to touch the device. The conventional dial pad could be kept to avoid any need to "train" users, just make the "buttons" into non-touch sensors. The "handpiece" should be eliminated entirely. There's certainly no need for a hand-held microphone! I'm not sure about the design of the speaker to avoid touching it and also maintain the privacy of the call, but there must be some way of handling that.

Perhaps the question should be "how would you upgrade a pay phone to make it worth keeping around" rather than whether they should be kept around at all.

Pay phones very much needed (1)

baitisj (64922) | more than 13 years ago | (#281233)

Think of all the areas out in the sticks that don't get PCS coverage.

Also, think of all of the people, like me, who don't pay $45 or more a month to afford the "luxury" of being interrupted all of the time by a portable ringing nuisance. Until cell phones get darned cheap or my employer requires me to have one, I will stay cell-free.

Pay phones are hopefully going to be around for a long time.

Re:Keep the payphones! (1)

rkent (73434) | more than 13 years ago | (#281236)

I would never buy a cellphone, for the mere fact that I wouldn't want to be that accessible.

Um... they have power switches. How do you think I get the thing to shut up when I'm at the movies? And I'll bet you'll be sitting smugly in your car the next time you run out of gas in the middle of the desert, happy not to have a cell...

Hell, don't get one, I don't care. But the "I don't want to be that accessible" argument just doesn't cut it for me anymore. Just don't tell your boss the number.

Re:Payphones == anonymity (1)

_martini_ (77384) | more than 13 years ago | (#281238)

If you are calling from payphone to payphone, what does it matter if it's tapped/logged? Assuming you don't use names, or mention times and/or locations..

Re:Pay phones good, cell phones evil (2)

_martini_ (77384) | more than 13 years ago | (#281239)

obviously you've never had a cell phone, and realized how damn usefull they are.

Just because some people use them incorrectly, doesn't mean you wouldn't be able to make good use of one. With your argument, because some guy in an SUV cut you off, or a granny in a buick is driving 10 under the speed limit in the left hand freeway lane, it makes all cars bad, and you won't drive them.

doesn't make any sense, does it? If you know how to drive, and you can useyour automobile correctly, that's really all that matters, now isn't it?

Anyone see the problem with this? (1)

Speare (84249) | more than 13 years ago | (#281243)

I hate to see pay phones disappear and this sounds like a nice way to keep 'em alive a little longer. Heck, hacking pay phones is where it all started for the likes of Cap'n crunch.

Anyone else see a problem with this attitude?

Slashdot 2003: I'd hate to see CDs disappear and maybe there's a nice way to keep 'em alive a little longer. Heck, ripping CDs is where it all started for the likes of Sean Fanning.

Re:Anyone see the problem with this? (1)

Speare (84249) | more than 13 years ago | (#281244)

You miss my argument: if folks are stealing time from payphones, and payphones go away... then folks are stealing content from unprotected media like CDs... how long will it be before the only media out there is encrypted for pay-for-play?

It's inevitable that people will rip off stuff from naive unprotected services. If rip-offs are relatively small and difficult (a la Capncrunch's phreaking), no big deal. But when rip-offs grow to the scale of Napster, the naive companies wise up quickly-- and close the loopholes, taking legitimate use out of play as well.

Payphones == anonymity (5)

Ryu2 (89645) | more than 13 years ago | (#281250)

Think of them as the old-fashioned telephone equivalent of an anonymous proxy server.

Of course, just like anonymity on the Net, it can be misused. But just like anonymity on the Net, it's something that I'm sure all of us, certainly the Slashdot-reading people, wants to make sure doesn't go away completely.

Techno Snobbery (5)

RedSynapse (90206) | more than 13 years ago | (#281253)

Am I the only one who thinks this question is patently absurd? First, most people do not have any type of mobile communications device. Second, most people on earth don't have any phone at all. Third, payphones currently generate in excess of five billion US dollars revenue per annum.
This "question" seems to be an exercise in showing how techno savvy the author is, rather than asking a practical or intelligent question. "Analog communication via landline? Oh that is just so 20th century dahling." This seems like one of the many Slashdot discussions that get sucked into some geektopia fantasy land. I don't know about your reality but in mine there are people living in subway tunnels, boxes, and doorways, and I doubt they are much impressed with pay phones' nostalgia value.

Payphones are a health hazard (1)

BierGuzzl (92635) | more than 13 years ago | (#281254)

Long before the studies on accelerated cell growth, acute reflexes, and cancer risk asessment for users of cellular phones, there was already widespread common knowledge of the health risks inherent in the use of the everyday payphone.
The difference is the type of risk involved. It's not so easily scientifically abstracted as a microwave can be. The biological risks are very real and proof of them is beyond any doubt. A common cold virus is but one example of how simple the threat is. A flu virus is an example of how a payphone can kill you.
Scrap the payphones! While we're at it, scrap interac, atms, public washrooms, and anything else that biologically exposes you to such high risks. I say get a cathoder, use only your credit card so you don't have to touch those dirty keypads, and get a satelite phone if you need connectivity. But for goodness sake, whatever you do, don't use a payphone!

If it's nostalgia you've got, put em in a museum, behind bullet proof glass, with high security alarms! Those damned payphones can't be trusted for nuthin. They're the primary cause for a generation of hackers with endless sniffles -- don't let this happen to Your children!

Pay Phones (5)

bill.sheehan (93856) | more than 13 years ago | (#281255)

I hope that pay phones survive a long, long time. Not everyone has a cell phone, or can afford one. Not everyone can afford telephone service in their home. A pay phone should be thought of as a public service, like the public library, enabling everyone to have access to the network when needed.

"One ringy-dingy..."

Re:Anyone see the problem with this? (1)

ignorant_newbie (104175) | more than 13 years ago | (#281264)

no... cd's as a technology can be easily replaced with, say minidisk or ibm microdrives, or whatever.

what replaces pay phones in this way?

.what i'd look for is the broader elimination of landlines for voice, and replacing all phone booths with solar powered cellphones like you see along the california highways every mile or so. it shouldn't be too hard to hook up a coin box to one of those...

beer wants to be information.

I used one last week... (2)

alexhmit01 (104757) | more than 13 years ago | (#281270)

So I am on my cel phone with an important client, and my battery dies. I dart to the nearest pay phone and start dropping change. Went through a 35-cent startup, and 3 5-cent increases.

Without a payphone, I'd be SOL.

I can't tell you how many times you are in an airport, and you see people on the pay phone. With the digital cel phones, the rates are good but the service is choppy.

Cel phones won't kill the payphone.

The "paper" disposable cel phones that I saw on a science portion of the news a few weeks ago will. Payphones as they are will probably be vending machines for these paper cel phones, and there no longer is a reason to not have an emergency out-going only cel phone on you.



earache (110979) | more than 13 years ago | (#281273)

Right on man.

Keep the payphones! (3)

vorpal22 (114901) | more than 13 years ago | (#281279)

I would never buy a cellphone, for the mere fact that I wouldn't want to be that accessible. I hardly ever answer the phone when I'm home, so why would I want to cart a cellphone around with me?

However, I do have the occasional need when I'm out in public to make a phone call, in which case I'm thankful for public phones.

I don't think public phones will be going anywhere any time soon. The majority of people that I know don't have cell phones, and the public phones in the areas I frequent seem to experience moderate usage.


pointym5 (128908) | more than 13 years ago | (#281285)

Massive STRIDES, not "strives". GEEZ.

Stuff 'em (1)

r-jae (138803) | more than 13 years ago | (#281289)

Great idea but who cares about the payphones? I mean I believe in the saying "you have to look back to look forward" but that's what museums are for. Shove a few in a museum, trash the rest, and we have valuable sidewalk space that can be used for other things. And it keeps the nostalgic folks happy. I'm 17, and ever since I can remember my family has used cellphones - I've had one for about 3 years now. I've used a payphone maybe four or five times. They're irrelevant.

How about we use the freed-up space for public access terminals for the Internet, like they have in libraries?



Daniel Zeaiter

Sigh.. Why life is confusing... (1)

disneyfan1313 (138976) | more than 13 years ago | (#281290)

I don't want a cell phone.. I don't need a cellphone.. but peer preasure is getting to me.. Plus all the friggin pay phones in the area are COCOT's and wont recognize the new area code they created in the area for cell phones so if I try and call my friends cell phone it says it has to be a long distance call.. If I try it with a 1 then the area code it says it doesnt require an area code.. DOH! BTW.. the operator and the phone company is no help and they don't care..

Legality (2)

Faux_Pseudo (141152) | more than 13 years ago | (#281295)

I will keep this brief.

In my state, CA, it is illegal for a person under the age of 18 to own a pager, cellphone, or a credit card. Now thats not to say that people obay the law but it is none the less the law.

So long as restrictions like this persist, and I think they should, then the phone companys should be required to maintain payphones.

Wires vs. wireless (1)

FrankNputer (141316) | more than 13 years ago | (#281296)

For stability, give me wires over wireless any day.

Gettin' Out of Jail (5)

Rura Penthe (154319) | more than 13 years ago | (#281299)

I, for one, love the payphone. It lets you make that oh-so-important call just after you're released from prison!

"Hi mom, I need a ride home. I just got out of the county lockup!"
"Oh my god honey, why were you there?"
"Drinking and hacking again"
"Oh son...I'm so disappointed..."

Get them out (1)

piecewise (169377) | more than 13 years ago | (#281303)

The best reasons to get rid of payphones:

1) Nostalgia's sake?
Please. If you're interested in putting your tax paying dollars towards keeping big metal boxes in our cities, go for it -- but pay that part of my taxes too, ok? Because it's waste.

Or... we could just let them rot. Not pay for them. That would solve the tax thing. I realize it's probably like $0.02 per person in taxes, but hey, every bit counts. I don't like the IDEA of keeping them up *if* they're really not as popular or a good move financially. I live near Philly, and we Gots Lots of Debt already! :-)

2) Cell booth?
Are you kidding? With the fears of cancer (maybe it's true -- maybe not) from cell antennas, I am *not* standing a big box of cellular rays. Even if scientifically it wouldn't matter - I don't like the IDEA of being my own cell site. Ain't happening.

Besides, I have a PCS phone and I very rarely lose coverage, and the quality is always nice. There's just no need for me. And if there isn't for me, there might not be a need for others -- and if there isn't for others, even convering pay phone booths wouldn't save them.

Just some thoughts.

Re:Pay phones good, cell phones evil (1)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 13 years ago | (#281306)

Just out of curiosity, why are you "anti-cell phone"? I can understand not wanting one just because you don't make enough calls to really want one, but how can someone be "anti"?


payphone ripoffs (2)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#281308)

I do not mind payphones, but you got to watch out for those that charge insane amounts of money, owned by a small time high price company. alot of times, say in a corner store, there will be a payphone setup where the store owner gets a piece of the action. So out of each dollar charged, the owner might get 50 cents, etc. but the clerks play dumb.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people who do not have cell phone, even now. So pay phones may still pay for themselves for a while. It may be easier just to leave them there

Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

Some things should not change. (2)

Mike the Mac Geek (182790) | more than 13 years ago | (#281309)

We still use paper books, even though some people can afford e-books.

We still use generic drugs, even though some people can afford the name brand.

Just because there is an expensive alternative some people can afford, that does not mean we need to eliminate the old ways. Hell, in most cases, the old ways are better.

No cell for me (1)

AintTooProudToBeg (187954) | more than 13 years ago | (#281311)

Interesting idea. But no, I'd rather spend $.30 every two months on the phone call I *have* to make rather than $60 per month for a cell phone.

Although, I certainly wouldn't mine not having to put my ear against those disgusting things.

I used to only have a cell phone -- not even a 'regular' phone. Too many disconnects/static connections... not to mention the radiation fears. Besides, I really didn't like being bothered every hour by telemarketers/coworkers/family.

Of course you need payphones! (5)

davejhiggins (188370) | more than 13 years ago | (#281312)

OK, so she used them a lot to keep in touch with the Nebuchadnezzar, but you never saw Trinity actually escape The Matrix through a mobile did you?

No, you need a payphone to wire a hard line in to... if they all suddenly get taken away I'm going to get a lot more suspicious of the world than I was before I was that movie...

Useful payphones (1)

GlassUser (190787) | more than 13 years ago | (#281313)

I've seen pay phones in the airport and such with data plugs on them, pay (lots of money) for data now. I think, at least in the us, there will be a need for these for a while, since I've found data links over cell phones to be unreliable, and that's assuming you have home coverage at airport X. Ricochet [] is a useful alternative in that situation, since they have lots of major air ports covered. Problem is they don't service the small ones without these data pay phones, and are only in large metro areas, where cell phones are almost guaranteed to work.

Neither cells nor ricochet work well underground, though.

Personally, I see the pay phone staying with us a while longer. I've used one this month, when I didn't want to run up my company cell [] , and needed to make a long, long distance call. I think they're still needed.

I've seen subway payphones... (2)

ChaoticCoyote (195677) | more than 13 years ago | (#281315)

...or, more accurately, I've smelled them, back when I spent some time in the Big Apple. New York City may have something for everyone, but some of its residents desperately needed to be taught that a payphone enclosure is not a public restroom...

My NexTel cellphone works from most anywhere, so I don't use payphones much anymore. But not everyone has a cellphone, and not every cellphone works well -- so I suspect the payphone (as communication device and as an impromptu urinal) -- will be around a bit longer.

Scott Robert Ladd
Master of Complexity
Destroyer of Order and Chaos

Re:Pay Phones (1)

mlepovic (197411) | more than 13 years ago | (#281317)

Not true my credit is pretty wrecked from college but I got a cell phone from sprint pcs with no problem. Only thing was I needed to pay a $125 deposit.


how about... New Services(TM) (1)

villy (199943) | more than 13 years ago | (#281320)

Seriously, think about Bluetooth-enabled (or whatever - pick your favorite proximity-based protocol) as a future service provided by payphones. Obviously the phones would have to be upgraded, but this would mean... Instant Terminal!(TM)

Not the Beatles.

Silly question, really... (5)

mblase (200735) | more than 13 years ago | (#281322)'s like asking, "what with all the credit cards out there, do we still need paper money?" And the answer is, of course we do. So long as there are people who can't afford a cell phone, the pay phone will still be a vital necessity.

I mean, geez, even the article says it: The point is that a significant number of people still use payphones, although that number has decreased to the point that British Telecom recently doubled the basic charge and is looking at ways to remake the booths into something sexier and more lucrative, like Internet kiosks. They're not making as much money as they used to for the phone companies, but they're not useless nostalgia items, either.

I think not! (1)

Sindri (207695) | more than 13 years ago | (#281326)

I live in New York and from the looks of it here the payphones are used alot. And they are frankly more reliable than cellphones come to think of it. I often find my self using a payphone because I cant get a line on the cellular.
I think the payphone isnt going to disapear, and neither are the regular land line phones.
Sindri Traustason
"It takes two to lie, one to lie and one to listen"

Wha....? (1)

phr1 (211689) | more than 13 years ago | (#281330)

The advertising leaflet for Verizon prepaid cell phones in California specifically say there's no age restriction.

We'll always need them... (2)

DarkEdgeX (212110) | more than 13 years ago | (#281331)

...even if we'd rather not admit it.

Pay phones serve their purpose for both emergency calls, and for when the cell phone won't work. I think it's too early to pronounce them dead as well because telephone booths could easily be retrofitted to provide broadband access on the go (for laptops, for example), whereas portable/cellular solutions so far aren't widespread or reliable. (Ricochet still being 28.8 I believe in the Seattle area, where I live.)

Of course, it's not like the phone company is hurting for cash from running them-- the rate hike from a quarter to $0.35 must have been a shot in the arm for their profits.

Re:We'll always need them... (2)

DarkEdgeX (212110) | more than 13 years ago | (#281332)

??? payphone calls once cost a quarter ??? when was this? (is there a timeline of the (average?) price to use a payphone?

Actually that's a semi-interesting question, I know that it used to be a quarter up until a few years ago (I think in the past two or three years) in the Washington state area. And obviously it used to cost a dime, but thankfully the rate hikes on payphone use aren't as fast or large as postage rate hikes (used to be cheaper to mail someone, now it's cheaper to just call them (practically)).

Re:Gettin' Out of Jail (1)

mcknation (217793) | more than 13 years ago | (#281337)

Man I just made that call on Friday night. Long live the pay phone. Note tho in our County lockup they monitor what # you dial from the computers in the center of the holding cell. So make sure it's mom you call.. $McK

Re:Off-topic - buying phonebooth? (2)

human bean (222811) | more than 13 years ago | (#281339), or your local Graybar office.

Re:Payphones and security -- Au Contraire... (4)

human bean (222811) | more than 13 years ago | (#281341)

This may be so for places that are rural in nature, but in any large town you can bet that payphones are monitored, one way or another. It depends on where the payphone is located:

Court houses, jails, bars, schools, YMCAs, hotels, government buildings, and points of transit, plus stand-alone payphones in those "special" parts of town.

In other words, phones where interesting conversations might take place. The local whorehouse phone (pay or not) is always monitored, but I have never seen a order on a public phone in a library.

Needed for Emergencies! (1)

Black Pete (222858) | more than 13 years ago | (#281342)

Yes! Save the pay phone.

They can be a real lifesaver in case of emergencies. Say that you've been robbed/rapped/beaten/etc. and your cellphone was taken from you. How are you going to call 911 otherwise? Women are paranoid enough in this society -- asking them to go to a stranger's place to use the phone after an attack is a bit much.

Also, what about TDD users? (For those of you who don't know, a TDD machine is a teletype machine used by the deaf in order to communicate). The problem is that on a standard TDD machine, it's specifically designed for the standard phone. A "modern" cellphone just wouldn't fit, as it'd be too small.

(And of course, as other people mentioned, there's the little issue of the battery dying, accidently let it drown in a puddle, or whatever accident you can think of.)

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone has a cellphone.

Payphones and security (1)

KarmaBlackballed (222917) | more than 13 years ago | (#281343)

These days we hear more about private conversations recorded by neighbors, seedy journalists, and voyeurs. None of that happens with a call from a random payphone. If you need to say something and keep it private --- it sounds ridiculous but its true -- use a payphone.

For the same reason, I would feel more comfortable hooking into the web at an airport using a plug than I would using bluetooth or any of the other wireless protocols out today.

~~ the real world is much simpler ~~

Locked Out (1)

krispi (227500) | more than 13 years ago | (#281346)

Recently I was in a situation where I had locked myself out of the house without my mobile. Thankfully I ran down the street to my local payphone and called my mother reverse charges, who in turn called my flatmate and got her to come home and let me in. If it wasn't for the public phone I could have been waiting hours in the cold for her to come home othrwise.

transient communications. (1)

saintlupus (227599) | more than 13 years ago | (#281348)

i find it tough to believe that anyone would seriously consider doing away with payphones. not everyone is a silicon valley dotcom rich kid, you know... i'm doing a little bit of travelling [] right now, and pay phones are the only way to catch up with people i know in different cities. get rid of those, i'll have no way to get in touch when i roll into town. bad idea.

a lot of people in this world don't even have a computer or a tv, let alone a new nokia to fuck around with.


Re:Gettin' Out of Jail (1)

Alatar (227876) | more than 13 years ago | (#281349)

Jailhouse phones are a different class-of-service than pay phones. Pay phones require the user to make a deposit before making a call, and jailhouse phones only allow collect calls, usually with a maximum of 15 minutes duration.

Re:Phones "cause crime" (5)

Alatar (227876) | more than 13 years ago | (#281351)

It's really more due to the fact that pay phones (Bell called them "public phones") are no longer considered a "public resource" the way they once were. A whole city block used to be able to use public phones to receive phone calls and whoever answered the ringing phone would usually be gracious enough to run to the next house to inform the callee that the telephone was for them. However, after deregulation, instead of getting a special pay phone line from the phone company, anybody could buy a fortress phone from a catalog (COCOT), connect it to a regular phone line (POTS), and start billing callers. These private owners did not want anybody to use their property without paying a stiff fee, and successfully used the "drug dealer office" argument to remove incoming call ability from virtually all pay phones, including telco-owned ones. This act really spelled the end for the "public resource" paradigm. Many COCOT owners also ignored regulations outlawing billing customers for toll-free calls, and after a while, people got used to the idea. Now, pay phones are only used by the poor, and everybody else has a cell phone for use on the go.

I hate cities that don't have payphones! (2)

openbear (231388) | more than 13 years ago | (#281352)

I had to pick up a friend of mine from work in Irving, TX one night and forgot my cell phone. When I couldn't find him waiting where he said he would be I looked for a payphone and could not find one. Apparently the city of Irving sees payphones as being magnets for drug users and got rid of all of them. I can't tell you what a headache it was not having access to a payphone. What should have taken ten minutes turned into a two hour ordeal. I wound up having to drive into the next town over and find a payphone in the bad (i.e. strip-club-section) part of town. Looking back, other than being really annoyed I was fine, but if it was my mother in the same situation then I would be pissed because she would have been in danger.

In summary I think payphones need to be around and cities who rip them out because of potential "drug-abuse" need to be penalized in some way.

As a side note: my friend later told me that Irving's official stance on payphones is that they're dangerous and unnecessary because anyone who belongs in Irving can afford a cell phone.

Payphone is my cellphone! (1)

los furtive (232491) | more than 13 years ago | (#281353)

If you're like me and have access to several 800 numbers (tech support people, raise your hands!) then you don't really need a cellphone, just a pager with voicemail and the following trick:

When you receive a call you just step up to the nearest payphone (not hard to find in a city like Montreal) and call the person back for free (i.e. Dial 800 number, ask to be transfered by your buddy at the other end).

Am I just spoiled by my job, or am I abusing my priviledges? Who cares! It's still way cheaper and almost as convenient as a cellphone!

Payphones have saved me a few times (1)

room101 (236520) | more than 13 years ago | (#281355)

I used to carry a 24/7 pager for work, and a cell phone. But just when you needed it, the damn battery would die. Many times I used a payphone to save my ass.

Things are better now with the hardware, but I don't think it will be anytime soon when I would want to be stuck out somewhere and my pager going off without any backup.

actually (1)

saint10 (248611) | more than 13 years ago | (#281370)

actually i wish they would turn booths into internet kiosks.. although it would be hard to build one that could deal with the punishment it would get.

Re:Payphones and security -- Au Contraire... (1)

Lede Singer (253091) | more than 13 years ago | (#281371)

Can the police use recorded conversations as evidence? I know that they are used all the time in movies, but I seem to recall that unless they have consent, they cannot tap phone lines.

I'm not trying to be naive, I know that the FBI (I mean England) probably has tons of phones tapped, but they don't care about the local brothel, crackhouse, whatever. I'm just curious if tapping pay phone lines is something that your local police even waste their time on.

You're right, except... (2)

localroger (258128) | more than 13 years ago | (#281373)

...except that the telcos really are phasing pay phones out because they don't make enough revenue. (Of course, this may be in relation to newer technologies; which would you rather sell, two calls for a total of US$0.50 or one cell phone contract for US$40.00 per month?)

As I suggested in another post above, it is obvious that pay phones are a good thing to have. And we're not going to have them soon. There has been plenty of info on this lately, planting the seeds of acceptability when it gets really hard to find one.

Another miracle of privatization (5)

localroger (258128) | more than 13 years ago | (#281374)

I think the consensus is that pay phones are a Good Thing -- handy in an emergency, and available for people who can't afford a cellphone, don't want one, or whose cellphone just died at an inopportune time.

That said, it's a shame they are going the way of the dodo. Yep, they are.

The problem is that, because of cellphones, pay phone use is decreasing. That means pay phones make less money. That means the for-profit corporations now running them will pull them. Simple economics -- if you're the only one in town who needs a left-handed three-pitch anchor screw, don't expect Home Depot to carry it.

So without making anything like a general comment (heh) on the topic, let me just point out that this is one small area where capitalism is clearly failing. For all the evils of the ATT/Bell monopoly, it did subsidize necessary but unprofitable services like pay phones and hard to service local lines with the profits from more lucrative and voluntary things like long distance. Not a good thing if you're a big long distance customer, but a very good thing if your car just got jacked and you need to call the police.

Considering the libertarian/capitalistic streak that runs through the /. community, it is kind of amusing to see this outpouring of enthusiasm over a service which is clearly going to die because the evil corporate pigs don't make enough money off of it. Pay phones are just one detail in the broad category of infrastructure which IMO really should be maintained by taxes and subsidies, because without some social engineering they just won't exist even though they are beneficial.

Of course, the other possibility is that the cost of a pay call will go up. Some phones already meter local calls by the minute. But that's a spiral to doom; make the call too expensive and more people will spring for a cell phone, usage will go down more, you will have to jack the price again, etc.

If someone has a solution to this that will not get called "communism" or "socialism" by the usual elements, I'd be very interested in hearing about it. Meanwhile, this is just one of those things that, to me, argue against the purely liberarian/capitalistic worldview -- whatever its other beneficial contrasts might be to the current overall situation.

Still 25 cents (1)

c_g12 (262068) | more than 13 years ago | (#281375)

I've lived in Vancouver for 20 years, and local calls have always been, and still are twenty five cents. Not only that, but the phone company has recently extended the distance of a local call. How long will it be before they bump up the cost to 35 cents? 50 cents?

Health Risk? (2)

TGK (262438) | more than 13 years ago | (#281376)

What with all the hub bub about cell phones causing cancer, is there a risk that having a flipping cell phone antenna on top of the pay phone booth could cause problems? I mean, you'd have the things on street level basicly blasting out microwaves a few feet from the heads of hundreds of passersby. Saturate an area in those things and you're talking a sea of radiation.

Or I could be completely wrong.

This has been another useless post from....

Payphones for modems (2)

Pentapod (264636) | more than 13 years ago | (#281377)

I for one love the fact that payphones in some airports (LA, for example) now have little jacks so you can plug your laptop in and get your email from the departure lounge. I would like to see this a general trend... perhaps in the future we will see IR connectivity as well for true ease of use anywhere. Now if only every airport would consider the laptop user.

Yes. (1)

Icephreak1 (267199) | more than 13 years ago | (#281380)

As long as the tool of the profiteering telco antichrists, the cellphone, remains among us, of course the payphone is as good as dead.

Cellphones are fucking nuisance. Granted that some use the things for truly legitimate reasons, the vast majority of people these days don't, and that's what I seethe over. Sally shooting the gossip to Jenny does NOT count for legitimate use. That's called taking things for granted.

Toronto, Canda

Re:Silly question, really... (2)

SomeoneYouDontKnow (267893) | more than 13 years ago | (#281381)

Actually, the debate over a cashless society has been going on for a while now, but you're right, we still need both cash and pay phones. It'd be nice to see them upgraded to become public access Internet terminals, and maybe that will eventually happen, but they're still useful as they are, especially for people who can't afford or don't want cell phones or for those times when cell phones simply don't work.

Re:Phones "cause crime" (5)

SomeoneYouDontKnow (267893) | more than 13 years ago | (#281382)

Yep, you're right. And besides, the drug dealers and prostitutes just got beepers and cell phones anyway.

It's not an uncommon problem... (1)

WIAKywbfatw (307557) | more than 13 years ago | (#281386)

Here in Britain, the minimum cost of making a call from a Brtish Telecom (the major telco) payphone rose at the beginning of the year from 10 pence (around 15 cents) to 20 pence (30 cents).

Of course, BT didn't announce this hike with the fanfare it makes when it's announcing some well overdue service (like affordable broadband - still waiting on that) but it did raise two points in its defence:

1) The increase in the minimum charge was the first for about a generation; and
2) It's takings from payphones (and hence its profits) had dropped by about a third in a very short period (a year I think), mainly due to the large increase in mobile phone ownership.

Fortunately, under its operating rules (BT was formerly publicly owned, is almost a monopoly and is regulated by an albeit sycophantic regulator), the company is legally bound to maintain many public phone boxes, especially those in remote areas that tend to be amongst the least profitable.

Our phone boxes won't be disappearing overnight, but it is inevitable that the cost of using them will increase in the coming years whilst the cost of telephony in general falls. Not an ideal situation by any means but at least calling 999 (our equivalent of 911 and also a free call) in an emergency won't be affected by the decline in payphone usage.

Pay phones good, cell phones evil (1)

ryants (310088) | more than 13 years ago | (#281387)

Being an anti-cell phone person myself, I still rely on pay phones when I'm not at home or at the office.

Long live the pay phone!

Ryan T. Sammartino

Re:Pay phones good, cell phones evil (1)

ryants (310088) | more than 13 years ago | (#281388)

I guess you've never had a movie ruined by a ringing cell phone. Or a clueless driver cut you off while yakking on the phone. Or just having to listen to people yell into the tiny little mics in the mall.

Ryan T. Sammartino

Yeah, but (1)

PorcelainLabrador (321065) | more than 13 years ago | (#281390)

..this may be a bit off-topic, but don't forget that the newest 'pay' phones due out soon are disposable =) Have you seen the disposable cell phone? Sounds crazy, but there is a company (help me out here) who is creating cell phones that you can throw away after using a pre-paid amount of minutes.
Of course, I think part of the phone stays with you and you just replace certain components at the local gas station. But it's still a cool idea.

Phone booths themselves? Well I haven't seen one of those around in ages. I guess they were replaced by those little pods that people huddle in.

On a side note, I'm not sure what would happen to the people down in the trailer park if they took the neighborhood phone away. =)

not dead yet (1)

BadAndy*G00dP!zza (323176) | more than 13 years ago | (#281391)

a good way to dial 911 in any emergency and never gives you an out of calling area!
$crew u guyz i'm going....shit i already am home

Phones (1)

Deu (410420) | more than 13 years ago | (#281396)

I was in Chicago last year and I was trying to make a call to my aunts which is where I was staying but I didn`t know the number and talk about complicated.
I wasn`t sure of the area code and the operator was looking for a credit card and they wouldn`t take my one and then they wouldn`t connect me.
I ended up having to by a pen and paper so I could write the number down just to ring her, There was no details on the phone about how to ring the operator and prices.
Here in Ireland they phones are all clearly mark so you can ring the operator and other details you will need.


Re:Anyone see the problem with this? (1)

gnuLNX (410742) | more than 13 years ago | (#281397)

Nope I don't see the problem with this. Hacking ( actually phreaking in this case) has pushed many technologies to develop into new, and often better directions. As for the CD thing get over the fact that we are alway's gonna be able to get free music. ALWAY'S. I don't want to go into that in this post since it isn't about the ( very much still alive) MP3 boom. So no I don't think many people phreak any more, and if they do who cares. Damn I mean if they are smart enough to make a free phone call power to 'em, I don't think AT&T is gonna lose to much sleep over th issue.

can't you smell that smell? (1)

leenix usr (411904) | more than 13 years ago | (#281398)

If phone booths disappear, I for one will miss the smell of urine while I talk on the phone. Of course I guess I could always pull over, whip it out, and 'drain my oil' while I talk on my cell phone bring back that old familiar atmosphere.

Phones "cause crime" (5)

EvilStein (414640) | more than 13 years ago | (#281399)

Here in the city I live in, pay phones were removed because it was alleged that all they do is draw drug dealers and prostitutes.
I've never seen either hanging around..
And to think all this time I was under the impression that pay phones attracted people that wanted to make phone calls. Imagine that! ;)

Re:Here in NYC they went back to rotary-dial payfo (1)

Tech187 (416303) | more than 13 years ago | (#281400)

Somehow I can't help smirking when I visualize a conversation between a crack dealer and the pencil-neck manning the register at a Rat Shack.

Re:Pay Phones (3)

Tech187 (416303) | more than 13 years ago | (#281404)

Yeah. Let that be a lesson to you: Never wear your 2600 t-shirt to the cellphone store.

Telecommunications disenfranchisement (3)

Durindana (442090) | more than 13 years ago | (#281405)

If you look closely at the push to remove pay phones, you'll find that it's motivated mainly by phone companies (especially mobiles) who want to eliminate public access to telephones. Sure, cell phones calls are cheaper, but you don't need a credit card to make a pay phone call - nor a $250 deposit. This is the same sort of business vampirism that makes phone calls from prisons cost several dollars per minute in some states through a monopolist phone provider. Probably few Linux geeks see the absence of available public telecommunications as a serious problem; but there are many more people stuck in relative poverty than checking out Slashdot right now. Pay phones, without a steady income or steady job, may be their only way of talking to their families, for example. For them a pay phone is worth a hell of a lot more than a data jack in an airport phone.

I'll tell you why nobody uses payphone anymore (1)

Jonny Ringo (444580) | more than 13 years ago | (#281408)

Its because they charge you the inconvenient 35 cents. When it was a quarter all you needed was one coin. If I don't have a dime I have to put in 50 cents just to make a call! That's so irritating I'm about to by a cell phone my self now.
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