50 Cents, Please.
March 12, 2002 4:50 AM   Subscribe

50 Cents, Please. Remember When A Call Cost a Dime? Soon: the 50 cent NYC local phone call. The poor state of payphones in NYC has long fascinated me. Supposedly, most don't work because of vandalism (often, the dial tone works, but the you lose your coins), but I suspect Verizon just wants to maximize cell phone sales. And I suspect the payphone is an endangered species for health reasons. What's the state of the pay phone in your city?
posted by ParisParamus (38 comments total)
At the very least, they could wire subway stations for cell coverage before doing this.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:52 AM on March 12, 2002

I'm in London and the phones are pretty good. They have recently upgraded alot of them with email capability and text messaging, however they must be struggling, as half the population now have mobile phones. Vandalism is still a problem, but I am not sure it's as bad as it used to be.
posted by Frasermoo at 4:55 AM on March 12, 2002

At the very least, they could wire subway stations for cell coverage

At the very least? I can't imagine it being very cheap, and to be honest, I appreciate the break from 'phone-sluts' when I am on the tube.
posted by Frasermoo at 4:56 AM on March 12, 2002

Fraser: the NYC subway is sufficiently jarring that, well, it's the one place I don't mind cell phone usage.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:02 AM on March 12, 2002

I can't remember the last time I put change in a payphone. I've had a cell phone for 6 months but before then I always used a calling card. I suppose only the homeless population is going to be mostly effected by this.

In the Chicago metro area SBC/Ameritech has been reducing the number of payphones due to decreased useage. Many payphones have been at $.50 here for some time.
posted by Qubit at 5:05 AM on March 12, 2002

I seem to remember an attempt (when it was NYNEX?) a few years ago to up the price to 35 cents. I found myself without that dime a few times and my blood started to boil, and then they just suddenly disappeared. Anyone else remember this?

While my first instinct is to rail against the opportunistic capitalists and the already absurd fight for many to try to stay afloat in the inflated NYC economy -- a personal wound which would which will only be exacerbated by the salt of one more extra daily cost. But in fact, if they are offering unlimited time for 50 cents, i don't think i mind it all. I can't tell you how many times i ended up spending more than a dollar just to determine where to meet for dinner -- and often, just to run out of quarters before we could decide if it was Two Boots on A or on Christopher.
posted by milkman at 5:09 AM on March 12, 2002

The phones here in the Seattle area have been 50 cents for the last few months. They went up from 35 cents due to Qwest/USWest needing to up the price again because of the crappy economy up here.

Talk time here has always been unlimited. No 3-minute rule.
posted by naktekh at 5:12 AM on March 12, 2002 [1 favorite]

It's not so much the cost (although, it is, offensive) as the logistics of having that amount of change with you; and the probability of losing even more money when the thing doesn't work.

Actually, I pay AOL and extra $2.95/month and get unlimited domestic calling (2 minute limit).

By the way, dedicated telecarte-type phones never caught on here.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:13 AM on March 12, 2002

The unlimited rule will have some perverse effects in the subway, where The Louts will talk until the train comes. So then, Verizon will reign this in, back to two or three minutes. And so it goes...
posted by ParisParamus at 5:15 AM on March 12, 2002

No big deal. It has been $.50 in Minneapolis for a year.
posted by McBain at 5:18 AM on March 12, 2002

Columbia, SC, captive of BellSouth: All pay phones USD .50 since at least as far back as a year. BS (ha!) says the issue is that it's more expensive to maintain fewer (?) and lesser-used phones.

Not only that, but, being a holdout against cellular technology, I've sometimes had to really hunt around to find a pay phone.
posted by alumshubby at 5:25 AM on March 12, 2002

I have a mobile but I always carry a phone card with me just in case. I don't like putting change in phones. There's something not right about putting 50p in the slot, having the meter tick down to some figure still higher than 30p and then get no change back from the box. I'm sure that's why they get vandalised around here - the damned things steal from you. Screw their profits: I didn't steal from them, smash their phone box or yell irate demands at an operator causing them to pay stress related compensation to employees. Why are they stealing from me?

The local buses used to do this too. For about ten years they didn't give change. Your ride costs 80p, you have a two pound coin, your ride costs two quid. Bus usage fell through the floor.
posted by vbfg at 5:26 AM on March 12, 2002

I wouldn't mind 50 cents if it works. :) I miss phonebooths.. I miss them especially when I travel and do not have a spiffy mobile phone that works in NYC Tokyo and Paris at the same time (i can only do europe with my cellphone). Renting one usually isn't an option for me as I travel on a budget that can't afford a 500 USD deposit. I really apreciates a phone on every street corner. Me and that homeless guy I guess...
posted by dabitch at 5:26 AM on March 12, 2002

In my old neighborhood in Minneapolis, there were neighborhood complaints against public pay phones; they were seen as being mostly for the convenience of drug dealers. Some were removed, some were converted so they would only take USWest calling cards (which had the subscriber's name on them) or credit cards. There was a call to have some disable themselves after 10:00 p.m. or so, but I'm not sure if that was ever implemented.

Couple of years later, cellphones came in big, and the payphone issue kind of faded into the background.
posted by gimonca at 5:48 AM on March 12, 2002

They will vanish. I don't know why they haven't vanished yet.

Everyone will soon carry a little private handset (probably in combination with a normal cell phone) that also, if that's what you want, connects wirelessly to the local land-based system and bills your account. Phone companies could just give these things away to everyone in a city and say "Right, no more public phones here." The expense of maintaining booths would vanish, and everyone would use the damned things because they would be always in order, never dirty, and always in your pocket. Calls could be cheap, too, if they just connected to the existing land lines via a short wireless hop.

And the anonymous call will be history.
posted by pracowity at 5:54 AM on March 12, 2002

Hey Paris, I think rather than get sympathy for your higher phone fees you've unleashed bitterness at NYC having lower rates for longer than anyone else. Oh well. :)
posted by vbfg at 5:56 AM on March 12, 2002

Phones in NYC were kept at 25 cents due to community action.

At the same time, Phone booths in NYC were reduced to help fight drug use. But they are still necessary.
posted by brucec at 5:57 AM on March 12, 2002

There's a great NYC phone booth down the stairs at the 5?St. F Train stop (the one above Rock Center). Sort of like the one in that superrealist painting.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:06 AM on March 12, 2002

Nearly all phones here in Toronto are 25 cents CDN (15 cents USD), unlimited talk-time. There are a few 'enhanced' phones being distributed that have a 10-minute talk-time, but you'd actually have to go looking for them.
posted by Jairus at 6:07 AM on March 12, 2002

I work for a company called Popa Media in Philadelphia. What we do is change over payphones to Free Phones using video screens, card racks, and wrapped branding services. Now, would you rather have MORE advertising in your life, or pay the 50 cents? Our test phones have done pretty well...
posted by password at 6:23 AM on March 12, 2002

We have at least one working pay phone in Miami - 35 cents, I think. Everyone assumes that anyone using a payphone here is a drug dealer. But it's not the phones I miss, it's the booths.

I know of at least one still in use. But they used to be as common as mailboxes, and became part of pop culture.

Imagine Clark Kent using public lavatories to don his Superman suit. Or Tippi Hedren hiding in a portable toilet to avoid the attacking seagulls in Hitchcock's "The Birds". Or Doctor Who and his amazing derelict refrigerator.
posted by groundhog at 6:24 AM on March 12, 2002

Or Bill and Ted jetting around history in a large bidet.

posted by dong_resin at 6:33 AM on March 12, 2002

Everyone will soon carry a little private handset (probably in combination with a normal cell phone)

Oh, no, not really? Another thing I've got to carry?? The only cell phone I have is permanently attached in the car, because I don't want to cart the damn thing around.
posted by JanetLand at 7:22 AM on March 12, 2002

One of the key features that payphones offer is the fact that I can call other people at my convenience but they can't call me. I know that eventually I am probably going to be dragged into the cellular age. But honestly, I find it to be extremely annoying to have my coffee break, my movies, and my classes interrupted by someone's programmed musical cell phone.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:23 AM on March 12, 2002

Just for the people who don't live in NYC and use payphones here is what it is like:

While there are phones at nearly every corner in Manhattan below 86th street it seems like only every third one works.

They are quiet and even with the volume booster you have to touch them to your ear to hear over traffic.

They often smell like, in the inimitable words of Bill Fantegrossi, "ass packed with feet."

There are Verizon phones but many (if not most) are 3rd party.

They give you 3min for 25 cents and supposedly 3 more minutes for each additional 5 cents, but most of the time when you try to add change at 3 minutes the phone keeps your change and continues to ask for more change as if you hadn't put any in.

If the phone eats your last bt of change and you call the operator they inform you of a zero-refun policy and even if they can see that the phone has ripped you off on their terminal will not give you a call credit.
posted by n9 at 7:38 AM on March 12, 2002

As someone who lives in New York and doesn't have a cell phone, I have to tell you the sad state of public phones here really sucks. First it is hard to find one which has a dial tone and is not completely broken. Then you are lucky if it doesn't eat your quarters. Now if your call is placed and the other side gets the message you intend to send, you are golden. If the call can not be placed you face the life threatening task of retrieving your quarter.
posted by riffola at 8:35 AM on March 12, 2002

In Alberta and BC, payphones cost 35c if you put change in them, but if you want to use you card, a local call will set you back 75c. Which doesn't really make much sense to me...
posted by sauril at 8:50 AM on March 12, 2002

It's been so long since I've used a pay phone that I don't even know what the current rate in Austin is. I believe it's 35 cents, but I wouldn't wager much on it. I got my cell phone after staying with a friend on a business trip in Boston, and freezing to death trying to coordinate his drive home with picking up me and his girlfriend up, after work, from seperate places, at non-deterministic times, on a payphone.

After that, I swore I'd get a cell phone so it would never happen again.
posted by jammer at 9:42 AM on March 12, 2002

Here in L.A., most pay phones are 50 cents. However, this has got to be the cell phone capital of the world, so hardly anyone notices. In the wealthier parts of town, finding a pay phone on the street is difficult.
posted by bingo at 9:55 AM on March 12, 2002

p.s. Whatever will become of those cool photos on the back of 2600?
posted by bingo at 9:56 AM on March 12, 2002

Verizon is claiming that cell phones are necessitating the 100% increase. Virtuous...vicious.....there needs to be a new term for that type of logic.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:11 AM on March 12, 2002

all the private companies in San Francisco have been charging 50cents for quite some time now...and I'm sure PacBell isn't far behind. In a strange way though, it's more convenient.

- When phone calls cost a dime you just popped a dime in the phone.

- When phone calls cost a quarter you just popped a quarter in the phone.

- When phone calls went to 35cents you had to put a quarter and two nickels or a dime...kind of a pain in the ass dealing with different denominations. So much so that people often would just put two quarters in.

- Now with calls costing 2 quarters it's a bit easier...

Does that make sense to anyone?
posted by xochi at 10:16 AM on March 12, 2002

Pay phones in Oklahoma City stopped briefly at .35 but I think they are all .50 now. They seem to have virtually disappeared from the more affluent parts of town, but in my neighborhood are still common and in much use by the portion of the public who may not have a phone in their homes, let alone cell phones. I wish there were more of them about, as I have (so far) resisted the call of the cell phone. (I leave the house to get away from the phone)
posted by CINDERELLEN at 10:28 AM on March 12, 2002

The thing that's always bothered me about pay phones is that they don't give you change. I'm in Toronto and calls are 25 cents (unlimited time). However, in Canada we have dollar and two dollar coins, which the phones take. However, they don't give you change so if you only have a dollar, the call costs a dollar.

To me, this is just another reason to hate Bell Canada. (But it's not as if anyone needs another reason.)
posted by dobbs at 11:31 AM on March 12, 2002

- When phone calls went to 35cents you had to put a quarter and two nickels or a dime...kind of a pain in the ass dealing with different denominations. So much so that people often would just put two quarters in.

- Now with calls costing 2 quarters it's a bit easier...

Does that make sense to anyone?

In Wisconsin, when calls cost $.35, if you put in $.50 you wouldn't get change back anyways, so the recent raise to $.50 hasn't been as noticeable as the switch from $.25 to $.35
posted by drezdn at 11:34 AM on March 12, 2002

Remember When A Call Cost a Dime?

I remember when a call cost a nickel. As late as 1974, when I was in 8th grade, you could put a nickel in a pay phone in New Orleans and talk for as long as you liked.

Now for a little over a dollar a day, I can open my cell phone and talk for as long as I like (up to 50 hours a month, a limit which I never come close to approaching). Not too bad, really... and I can't remember the last time I had to use a pay phone. I'm glad, too -- the last pay phone I had to use was caked with filth. (*commence Felix Unger-style honking*)
posted by chuq at 2:05 PM on March 12, 2002

Because of the way the laws were written here in Arkansas, it was the last state to have 10c pay phones--as recently as about 2 or 3 yrs ago.

I think the poor state of pay phones is a failure of deregulation. I disagree that someday all people will have portable phones, there is still a large percentage nationwide of households without land line phones or portables. As a public service, I think the phone companies should be required to maintain a certain density of pay phones.
posted by ArkIlloid at 9:06 PM on March 12, 2002

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