back to article New York City rips out last city-owned public payphones

New York City this week ripped out its last municipally-owned payphones from Times Square to make room for Wi-Fi kiosks from city infrastructure project LinkNYC. "NYC's last free-standing payphones were removed today; they'll be replaced with a Link, boosting accessibility and connectivity across the city," LinkNYC said via …

  1. Martin-73 Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Mixed feelings

    Yes I know payphones in particular, and landlines in general, seem to be seen as anachronisms these days but I DO worry about the reliability, especially during a prolonged power outage, yknow, of the kind that happens during natural disasters, of the cellular/mobile phone networks.

    The same extends to BT's plans in Blighty to replace the PSTN with VoIP by SOON.... not well thought out in my ancient opinion>

    I bet Paris has a landline

    1. Kane

      Re: Mixed feelings

      "I bet Paris has a landline"

      I think you'll find that's called a Landing Strip

  2. astrophoto

    Phreaking in NYC

    In regards to the phreaking scene in New York, Evan Doorbell made extensive tapes of when he was a phone phreak in the 1970's and 1980's of the US phone system. He's even has a precious few tapes of the old UK telephone network. I would highly recommend his tape collection to anyone interested:

  3. First Light


    My first memory of ever using a public payphone in NYC in 1993 was that the handset was covered in human faeces. Those were the days!!

    I remember during September 11 in NYC when all the masts were on top of the Twin Towers and we couldn't call locally for some days after their destruction. I also remember having to rely on shortwave radio in 2003 for information when the big unexplained (chinese hackers, allegedly, I never bought the pole-went-down-in-Ohio explanation) power outage happened. My point being that NYC should know better than other places that redundancies matter and old tech can occasionally be very, very useful, or possibly even essential. I suggest they leave a few legacy boxes around.

    1. Martin-73 Silver badge

      Re: Redundancy?

      Absolutely, this is my concern. I am only partially a luddite, but i do have real concerns. Back in the day,an outage of a small village was enough to cause the GPO to mobilize all the troops to get them back 'on the phone'... I doubt there's that much resolve out there today

      Icon,how i feel, but i do worry

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Redundancy?

        That's the beauty of cellular though, they can bring in a mobile base station on a truck, and just park it wherever there's a network connection (or use microwave links between multiple mobile stations to a network) If there's not power leave the truck's engine idling.

        In the landline model things are great so long as the central office survives. If it does not, you are screwed and it will be days if not weeks before you're back online in a good sized city.

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Redundancy?

      Why do you need landline payphones for redundancy?

      Dont you have landline phones in residences in NY?

      To carry the broadband at least?

      1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

        Re: Redundancy?

        I am sitting in a residence in NYC right now. There is a broadband connection, but no landline telephone. My impression is that Americans under 35, e.g. the relative who lives here, generally don't bother with landline telephones.

      2. localzuk Silver badge

        Re: Redundancy?

        IIRC, most internet comes in the form of cable or fibre in the USA.

        UK style FTTC or ADSL is much more rare.

        1. Martin-73 Silver badge

          Re: Redundancy?

          VDSL (FTTC) is available in some smaller communities where cable hasn't been a thing but yes, generally it's all cable interweb

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Redundancy?

        How are you meant to pay the ransom without a public payphone?

        The design patent for the iconic blue police callbox is owned by... the BBC! (the police obviously didn't see the marketing potential)

    3. hayzoos

      Re: Redundancy?

      I used to work for a private payphone company. I performed installs, repairs, programming, etc. Up to a certain point only the telcos provided payphones and they used in-band signaling to systems at the switching offices. Those were the ones that could be phreaked.

      I installed "smartphones", meaning they had a CPU, memory, coin sensors, and such; thus had no need for in-band signaling and could not be phreaked. The telcos converted a lot their legacy "dumb" phones to "smart". The legacy phones could operate without electrical grid power as it was provided from the switching office as most landlines. Smart phones required more power than could be supplied from the switching office so required a wall-wart transformer to power the computer and was inoperative during a power outage.

      I have been to the area of Ohio where the "pole-went-down". The problem for that 2003 outage was not a pole, but a combination of things with poor right-of-way tree pruning maintenance being the straw that broke the camel's back. Corporate cost cutting was the reason for the poor maintenance. I saw the overgrowth firsthand.

      1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

        Re: 2003 blackout

        Too right, hayzoos, combined with Independent System Operator (ISO) software that did what it was designed to do but still didn't effectively communicate to the regional operators what the problem was before it was too late. As lines tripped, the combined loads tripped another line, then another... cascade failure as each utility company within the ISO went offline trying to protect their own equipment and voltage/frequency specs.

        I was still in Minnesota, about to take my grad school power systems course. Serendipity.

        My wife (this being two years before we ever crossed digital paths) tells a mean tale about 72 hours of hell as an EMT in Michigan during that time, only filling up the ambulance at certain generator-powered gas stations, and keeping a constant watch on a certain waste-gas open flame near the Detroit refinery/steel mill district because if it ever went out there was (and still is) a chance the whole area was (is) going to explode (see icon).

  4. chivo243 Silver badge

    Back in the 60s & 70s

    My dad always made sure I had a spare 'dime' in my wallet or pocket. Just for emergency phone calls. Trouble was, sometimes I would spend it on a soft drink, yes, you could get a coke from a vending machine for 10 cents back then, Norman's Gas Station!

    Tramp because I just made myself feel old!

  5. Grunchy Silver badge

    Michael Franti, Stay Human: “All the phreaky people make the beauty in the world!”

    I had the black box tone generator on my trusty old C64, but I never got around to phreaking at all. Well the C64 was never all that portable so I would have had to record the tones on my trusty old Tandy tape recorder, but I could never bring it on the bus because it never measured up as a boombox, you see? Shame. Incidentally the noise for a quarter dropping is the same as for the nickel, just repeated 5 times. The dime was the same, but only 2 times.

    By the time I had acceptable portable technology for phreaking on-the-go, I would just use that same technology to make the calls wirelessly instead!

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge


      The SX64 portable, was even less so & not something you'd want to leave behind.

  6. Danny 2

    The past is a foreign country...

    ...they require a dialling prefix to call there.

    My first telephone number was Auchengray 237, which I answered on a Bakelite phone with a thick wool cord. Even Scotland Yard had a longer number - Whitehall 1212. BT, well British Telecom, broke into my house and stole my phone- which was legal back then. They claimed my guinea pigs had chewed through the cord, I suspect they let the pigs out as cover. Your phone number was listed in tens of thousands of books in your area unless you were rich or famous. I was not that old, just my telephone exchange and telephone, albeit I am that old now.

    When you are destitute and sleeping rough, as tens of thousands of Britons are about to be for the first time, a public telephone can be a life-saver. The old red ones were iconic. Also, we used to have these things called post boxes...

    1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Re: The past is a foreign country...

      And a sufficiently large public library would have telephone books for other cities: New York, Chicago, etc.

    2. Barry Rueger

      Re: The past is a foreign country...

      Your phone number was listed in tens of thousands of books in your area unless you were rich or famous.

      Imagine a time when every house had a near complete list of phone numbers (and addresses) for everyone who lived in a city.

      Now you'll spend an hour scouring Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and endless dodgy web sites to try and find an email or phone number for someone whose job specifically requires them to be contactable.

    3. You aint sin me, roit

      Re: The past is a foreign country...

      Bill and Ted used a pay phone to get there.

      And the future...

    4. KBeee

      Re: The past is a foreign country...

      KENsington 8673 was our first phone number, back in the early 60's.

      4d to use a public phone, press button A to connect (press button B to get your four pennies back).

      There was a story that the Prime Ministers chauffeur at the time was always supplied with four one penny coins, because a public phone box was the only way the PM could authorise a nuclear strike if out of office during a nuclear emergency.

  7. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Tech dinosaurs

    Please note the appropriate dinosaur movie ad in the background. Time for these relics to move on to Jur-ass-has-had-it Park.

    1. Danny 2

      Re: Tech dinosaurs

      Hold your horses, Septic Dank. Or cool your jets, Jetsons (even that reference is too dated for you, aye?)

      Public telephones were a public service, an emergency utility that I doubt were ever profit making.

      Not all progress is progressive. Last time I renewed my driving licence I photo-shopped my own selfie, removed some of the red from my face, and posted the paper application for £10. No problem. This time it is £21.50 to get my photo taken at a Post Office because I don't have a passport - which I don't want, can't afford, and currently can't get due to Covid backlogs. You know who most needs photo IDs? Anyone on benefits, the neediest. I wish my library card had my photo and address on it.

      You seem to be young, presumably comfortable financially, and lacking in empathy. That's okay, we all were once. Word of advice: It's the fate of every dirty young man to become a dirty old man, if you are lucky.

      Help The Aged

  8. Major N

    Hm, 10k phones across 13k sites.. I think I see the problem here! at least 3k would have to move to cover 2 sites at once. Guess these must be an early 'mobile phone' :P

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a pedant writes...

    The police box was not a "kiosk". There was an external handset (with no dial) that the public could use to call the local police station, but the door to the box itself was locked - allegedly its main use was for your local bobby to nip into for a crafty fag while proceeding around the neighbourhood.

    In some places there was no box but just the handset on a shelf built into a wall.

    </old pedant>

  10. xyz Silver badge

    But but but...

    Where's a bloke going to find such a convenient peeing / sleeping / hide from the rain spot at 2 in the morning now?

  11. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

    One has to wonder

    how they were able to install 10,000 payphones in 13,000 different locations. 13,000 phones in 10,000 locations I can see.

    And the bit about Apple is interesting as well - Jobs saying flat out that Apple began from day 1 as a criminal organization. Gives hope to ransomware gangs wanting to become the world's #1 encrypted storage providers in 30 years. No real difference from their current business of encrypting hard drives.

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mommy Mommy I don't understand!

    I'm in the phone booth, it's the one across the hall

    If you don't answer, I'll just ring it off the wall

    I know he's there, but I just had to call

    Don't leave me hanging on the telephone

    I don't know what any of this means! What does a wall have to do with a phone? What's she singing about?

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Mommy Mommy I don't understand!

      Call me (call me) on the line

      Call me call any anytime

  14. Binraider Silver badge

    Is this a way to prevent Blade Runner from becoming the future? You know, the scene where Deckard takes his flying car to a bar & uses a pay phone…

  15. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

    Neophiles and Profiteers

    waving the banner of "Out with the old, in with the new!" throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    Part of the reason for having real, land-line payphones (vs VOIP-based payphones and cellphones) is the public-weal benefit of being able to reliably summon emergency services during an emergency. The older-style payphones ran on the 48VDC supplied by the telco, which had Diesel generators and rooms of batteries in their central offices, so payphones worked even when electric power was out over a wide area. Wall-wart-requiring modern phones can't do that. Cellphone towers have equipment boxes which don't have near that level of backup power.

    Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and major fires can take down cellphone coverage over wide areas.

  16. werdsmith Silver badge

    I remember 2p to make a local call, the beeping sound that released the slot so the coin could drop in and the call would connect. Then those bizarre green phone cards. Also, the convenience of a traditional phone box was too convenient for drunk Busby on his way home from the pub. They stank.

    1. Timbo

      Don't forget dialling 123 for the speaking clock, later sponsored by a watch manufacturer: "The time brought to you by Accurist is...."

      And the Dial-A DIsc service on 160 :-) Listen to the latest chart hit, down a limited bandwidth analogue telephone line... :-)

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