Payphone: Wikis


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GTE Automatic Electric 120-type single-slot coin phone in Santa Monica, CA (2004)
Bicycle payphone in Uganda

A pay phone or payphone is a public telephone, with payment by inserting money (usually coins) or a credit card (a special telephone card or a multi-purpose card) or debit card before a call is made.



Pay phones were preceded by pay stations, manned by telephone company attendants who would collect payment for calls placed. In 1889, the first public coin telephone was invented by William Gray and installed at a bank in Hartford, Connecticut. The invention quickly caught on, and by 1902, there were 81,000 pay phones in the United States. By 1905, the first outdoor pay phones with booths were installed. By the end of 1925, 25,000 of these booths existed in New York City alone. In 1960, the Bell System installed its one millionth telephone booth. After the divestiture of Pacific Bell (California) and AT&T in 1981, it wasn't long before independant stores selling telephones opened up. After that privately owned payphones hit the market. Unfortunately due to excessive vandalism, this market struggled.


Payphones are often found in public places, transportation hubs such as airports or train stations, convenience stores , malls, casinos, and on street corners. By agreement with the landlord, either the phone company pays rent for the location and keeps the revenue, or the landlord pays rent for the phone and shares the revenue. Payphones, particularly at gas stations, are mounted in drive-up structures that can be used without leaving the vehicle. The abandonment of payphones by telephone companies has angered some people who consider them a communication staple for low-income and low-credit consumers. In particular, these are useful, as always, for foreign travelers, or generally out of area travelers who are placing local calls, as well as those who simply don't like mobile phones.

Payphone revenues have sharply declined in many places, particularly due to the increased usage of mobile phones.

Toronto payphones covered with graffiti and bills.

Additional services

Payphone providers have tried to reverse the decline in usage by offering additional services such as SMS and Internet access, thus making their phone booths into Internet kiosks.

United States

AT&T payphone signage

In recent years, deregulation in the United States has allowed payphone service provided by a variety of companies. Such telephones are called customer-owned coin-operated telephones (COCOT), and are mostly kept in as good condition as compared with a payphone owned and operated by the local telephone company. COCOT contracts are usually more generous to the landlord than telco ones, hence telco payphones on private premises have been more often replaced than street phones. One common implementation is operated by vending machine companies and contains a hardwired list of non-toll telephone exchanges to which it will complete calls.

Verizon payphone on a street corner in the Eastern United States

In the United States, the coin rate for a local direct-dialed station-to-station call from a payphone has been 50¢ in most areas since mid-2001, for an unlimited number of minutes. Previously, the charge had been per minute, or per number of minutes. During the 1960s and 1970s, the same call in the United States and Canada typically cost 10¢. In inflation adjusted terms, in 2006 USD, this was 68¢ in 1960, and 28¢ in 1979. While some areas only cost 5¢, smaller companies occasionally charged as high as 15¢ to 20¢. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, this price gradually changed to 20¢, and again rose to 25¢ in some areas between 1985 and 1990 (47¢-39¢, inflation adjusted terms as above). In the late 1990s, the price rose to 35¢ in many areas. However, in most areas in California, for instance, the price is very often 50 cents a call.

In the United States, a payphone operator collects an FCC-mandated fee of 49.4¢ from the owner of a toll-free number for each call successfully placed to that number from the payphone. This results in many toll-free numbers rejecting calls from payphones in an attempt to avoid this surcharge; calling cards which require the caller to dial through a toll-free number will often pass this surcharge back to the caller, either as a separate itemized charge, a 50¢ to 90¢ increase in the price of the call, or (in the case of many pre-paid calling cards) the deduction of an extra number of minutes from the balance of the pre-paid card.

United Kingdom

In the UK, as in the USA, payphones have been deregulated. The great majority of them are still operated by British Telecom but there are other providers, mostly in urban areas. Manchester, London, Cardiff and Glasgow at the turn of the 21st century have a greater concentration of non-BT payphones.

BT has steadily been removing payphones throughout the UK since 2000 where BT deem the kiosks to not to be profitable, and have few or no calls made in any given financial year. BT however is offering local communities the option of adopting the iconic Red K6 Kiosks due to strong opposition from the communities that the kiosks reside in. This will mean the removal of the phone, leaving the empty kiosk in-situe. Another option BT has provided is the sponsored kiosk, that will retain the phone service, and retain the kiosk for a annual fee of around £300 +VAT, whether it is the Red K6 or the newer Aluminium and Glass Kiosks that cannot be adopted.


Currently most (BT) payphones charge £0.40 for the first 20 minutes of any direct dialled national geographic call. Previously (before November 2006) the minimum charge was £0.30, before 2004 it was £0.20 and before 2000 it was £0.10. However, making a call using a credit/debit card incurs a minimum charge of £1.20, and includes 1 minute of call time, £0.20 per minute thereafter. (November 2009)

A BT Chargecard is a considerably cheaper way to call from any UK landline, including Payphones.

Japanese Public IC TEL


All payphones on the street and in buildings in Japan are installed and maintained exclusively by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT).


A vandalised Telstra payphone
A common Telstra phone box

Australia has two major payphone operators: Telstra and Tritel.

Telstra has removed some of their payphones, believing them less necessary than in the past. They do not make a profit, because they are used less often and are frequently graffitied, vandalised, smashed and deliberately have their coin slots jammed.

Telstra Payphones are regulated at 50 cents a local call by law and some payphones also have the ability to SMS at 20 cents a message. Some Telstra payphones, especially ones in central city locations, have a teletypewriter facility. Generally, Telstra payphones accept all Australian coins, and Telstra Payphone Cards. However, Telstra has made a security move with most of their payphones, ensuring that money, including change, cannot be retrieved from the machine without opening the cashbox. This was done to stop theft as well as encourage patrons to use Payphone Cards, provided by Telstra. 1800 numbers are also charged free, and therefore a variety of calling cards, such as the Telstra PhoneAway, which has a 1800 number can be called and used too. Telstra payphones can also call +800 (dialled as 0011800 + 8 digits), and 1100 (Dial Before You Dig) without payment. It is also possible to use both Telstra's Telecard and Optus's calling card (which operates on 189xy service numbers) without payment at the payphone.

All payphones can call emergency services (000) without payment.

Telstra has payphones at almost every railway station, on some major streets and in some government buildings.

TriTel operates payphones generally on lease sites - therefore they are usually located inside shopping centres. Most shopping centres, particularly newer ones, will have a TriTel payphone instead of Telstra payphones because it seems TriTel is more lenient in installing payphones.

TriTel payphones are charged at 50 cents per 15 minutes for a local call and most 1800 calls[1]. They accept all Australian coins (Telstra payphones do not accept 5c coins) and TriTel payphone cards which are sold at newsagencies. 1800 Reverse (for collect calling) and 1800-TRITEL (their customer service line) can be called without payment at the payphone.

Private payphones can be installed. Most are bought from Telstra, however some can be bought through other special payphone specialists. There are two predominant types of private payphones, one of them no longer supported.

Gold phones used to be very popular and were installed generally in large restaurants/cafes, small shopping centres and other places where there were staff (as the phones were easily vandalised or even stolen due to their compact size) and there wasn't a need for such a big full size payphone. Gold phones were generally small, and had the dialpad and handset on the top of the machine. Gold phones only accepted coins, and had to be wired up to a special payphone subscriber line to allow charging.

Blue phones still seem to be working and are now more popular in the absence of gold phones. They are installed where gold phones were installed, and at some schools. These phones are smaller than their gold phone counterparts. These phones have a front which is slanted/angled and have a dialpad, a small 1 line LED screen and a handset. On the top of the machine is a coin slot. These phones accept coins only, and also need to be wired up to a special payphone subscriber line to allow charging, otherwise calls will not be metered and will go through for free.

As of the 30th of March 2009, the 30hz Metering System was switched off nation wide, meaning un-modified goldphones were rendered inoperable. Bluephones, however will still operate if the owner changes the phones meetering settings, done by changing a DIP switch inside the phone.

However, as mobile phones come to predominate, there is a decrease in payphone usage, except in rural, remote and non metropolitan areas where mobile coverage does not exist.



  • Intellicall AstraTel 2 Smart Payphone 1995-
  • Intellicall UltraTel Smart Payphone 1980s-
  • Intellicall Tidel 3 1990s-
  • GTE Automatic Electric 120-type

In popular culture

In the 1995 film Hackers, the characters Razor and Blade briefly explain how to manipulate payphones to make free calls.

See also

External links


  1. ^ "TriTel Terms and Conditions". Milton (Qld, Australia): TriTel Australia Pty Ltd. Retrieved 12 November 2009.  

Simple English

.]] A payphone is a telephone that lets the public make phone calls if they pay for them first. Many payphones accept coins, but some can accept credit cards, debit cards, and phone cards as well.

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