NYC Hangs Up Its Last Pay Phone

It was a melancholy Monday this week in the Big Apple as the last public payphone was uprooted from midtown Manhattan near Times Square and hauled away like so much garbage. That oughta be in a museum, you’re thinking, if you’re anything like us. Don’t worry; that’s exactly where the pair is headed.

This all started in 2014 when mayor de Blasio pledged to move the concept of street-level public utility into the future. Since then, NYC’s payphones have been systematically replaced with roughly 2,000 Link Wi-Fi kiosks that provide free domestic phone calls, device charging, and of course, Internet access. They also give weather, transit updates, and neighborhood news.

There are still a few private payphones around the city, so Superman still has places to change, and Bill and Ted can continue to come home. But if you need to make a phone call and have nowhere to turn, a Link kiosk is the way to go.

Although your Cap’n Crunch whistle hasn’t worked in decades, it’s still a sad day in history for the Jolly Wrencher, whose maiden message was about ye olde red boxen. We’re already seeing pay phones live on as art, so that’s a good sign.

Images via PIX11 and CBS News

48 thoughts on “NYC Hangs Up Its Last Pay Phone

  1. The steady decline in pay phones has been going on for a number of years. The “Central Office” in Gardena CA. stored pallets of removed pay phones in their back parking lot for a while. A photo of these abandoned beauties (My photo) was printed in the 2600 magazine a couple of years ago. The WiFi kiosks mentioned above have taken over the task of phoning home it seems. I’ve seen WiFi phone “Booths” in Australia, and Japan.

    1. The venerable 2600 Magazine. The photos of those public marvels preserved and now a memory. Telecom has changed so much. From calling bands, long distance charges, data lines, party lines, and so much more. I used to get laundry money in college with the old black OR yellow wire trick for the coin slot. ;) Ahh the memories.

    1. Somewhere around here I have a red box that I made from an AT&T autodialer. I took it to a 2600 meeting in D.C. when I was visiting and I was a hit. I bought the dialer at a hamfest in Dayton(it was NOT Hamvention, it was in Hara Arena but it was in August or something) and didn’t know if it would work so it was the only one I bought.

      1. I found an old one in my storage unit when I relocated a few years back. Alas, I’d left battery in it. Also, are 2600 meets still a thing? Use to attend NYC meets looong time ago; around the time Metrocard machines were a subject of focus.

  2. Big Brother is slowly winning. Before long, it will be impossible to go about daily life without a smartphone which is transmitting your every move, and every utterance home to Google, Samsung, Apple, Pooh Bear and the NSA.

    There was a time, not so long ago, when people from the DDR risked their lives to escape such invasive surveillance.

      1. Complaining about cellphones is like complaining about internet modems. For both to work they require infrastructure not under one’s control. Former cell tower, latter DSLAM or equivalent. If people are worried about big brother, or little brother they’re going to have to unplug from society. Be totally self-sufficient.

      2. It becomes more and more madantory. Corona apps are one example, building access, even digital IDs or online banking accounts more and more rely on smartphones. Normal phones are not enough anymore, neither SMS / text messages.

        So yes, you are very much restricted if you don’t use a phone today. Internet access alone is not enough.

    1. Newsflash, you’re neither important enough nor interesting enough for anyone to actually want to spy on you, despite what either your sun-sized ego or your paranoid-schizophrenic auditory hallucinations are telling you.

      1. Provably wrong, as there are laws that mandate exactly that (and are debated about in court regularly), that introduce mass surveillance without any prior suspicion or reason.

        You are decades out of the loop.

    2. Not so much the idea of the surveillance thing … More like ‘why’ even have one with you all the time in the first place. I don’t get the draw (unless your really need the ‘comfort’ and are lonely or insecure without one…). As soon as I retire, my phone will start gathering dust. To get a hold of me, leave a message on the land-line (well, cable/internet line now) and when I get home I’ll get back to you , or drive out to the o’ fishing hole and get me…. Just another extra unnecessary monthly ‘expense’.

      I remember using a phone booth or two while in the airport back when I was traveling for the company. End of an era.

      1. My supervisor had a habit of wiping the earpiece of public telephones, before using one.
        Then, I learned for myself how groady they can get.

  3. having a cell phone means bieng connected for me and many
    many others,my use case is there is no other option for internet
    where I live and have abandoned having a land line,never had
    cable,and all of my work comes through on line sources
    I do try and make tracking as difficult as possible.
    it would be better to include ‘NO pay” phones or free phones
    for all sorts of emergency and hard luck situations at the
    wifi hubs

  4. I was just thinking. Wethink of payphones as a convenience, for when we aren’t home.

    But I suspect their initial use was from people who didn’t yet have a phone at home. So they’d run to the corner to call a taxi, or uncle Bob. In 1972, we had a teacher just over from England and he said phones at home weren’t as common as here in Canada.

    Only as phones at home become expected was the transition to payphones about when you were away from home. And then they fade as that use replaced by cellphones.

    So gone are the days when The Waltons had to go to Ike’s store to use the phone. And when Jim Rockford had to stop at a payphone to make a phonecall while tailing a suspect.

    Even cops had callboxes after radio came along. Initially, the dispatcher had a radio, but the patrolcars had no way to radio back, so they’d stop at a callbox.

    1. I think they stopped using phone booths ever since Google Voice became a thing. No need to watch out for people overhearing you and a VPN makes it even harder to trace, all from the comfort of your own home.

        1. Interesting trivia, when “Voice Recognition” became a “Thing” but not yet perfected, trolls (Kids) asked questions with a “Sexual” bent. The system didn’t know how to respond. Fun times they say.

  5. iam a NYC man by birth. to hear this news of all removals, uninstalls. is indeed and for truly melancholy event. thanks to author for reference to Clark, Bill, Ted; great reminder of Gotham’s heyday. As Hawkeye Pierce says. “see ya in the Funny Papers!”

    1. I don’t remember seeing those. But obviously they are in movies, North by Northwest comes to mind. In Charade, too.

      I was in Europe for a year in 1965, but I was five so didn’t need a phone and never noticed.

  6. I was in Montreal QC last summer and was amazed at how many payphones they have – they’re still very easy to find. 10 or so in every Metro station, one on every 2nd or 3rd block along the streets. All in great shape, and functioning.

    1. About ten years ago.I got locked out, and suddenly wondered where to find a payphone.If not for the ones near the subway, I’m not sure what I would have done. And this was in Montreal

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