Today's Times lends some numbers to a trend we were well aware of: The disappearing of the pay phone.
It is no secret that pay phones aren't what they used to be. After hitting a peak in usage in the mid-90s, the pay phone has hit on hard times in the era of the mobile phone. How bad? Well, in 2000 there were more than 2 million pay phones in the US. In 2004 there were less than 1.3 million. Closer to home, in 2002 there were 165,000 pay phones in New York State. By 2004 that number had fallen to 137,000. And the numbers are not going back up.
The problem is that pay phones are not cheap to maintain, they need to make about $75 a month to break even. While it would be nice to keep all of them around for the convenience of those without cell phones (or those whose phones are broken or uncharged...) it just isn't financially feasible. And so, for most of the "location agents," like restaurant and grocery store owners who split the costs and profits of pay phones with the phone companies, it makes more sense now to install an ATM than a pay phone.
Sigh. How weird is it that pay phones will someday be an anachronism for our kids?
Photograph by Quarlo.