Observing the end of a coin-dependent bygone era, officials held a send-off ceremony of sorts earlier today for the final pair of surviving standalone public pay phones on the streets of New York City. Located at Seventh Avenue and 49th Street, the dual-phone Midtown kiosk was the last of its kind in operation prior to its removal, making it to very end of a drawn-out sweep of the city’s roughly 8,000 pay phones that first began in 2015.
Although the once-ubiquitous NYC public pay phone is now extinct (or maybe not?), some private pay phones on public property do remain. Also still in existence are a modest handful of old-school, full-length public phone booths, all of them located on the Upper West Side. While not much, the presence of these few remaining phone booths is something, and a spot of good news for nostalgic New Yorkers who long to relive the thrill of frantically emptying out their pockets while in search of loose change so that they can check in with the office, connect with a clandestine lover, or discuss pressing matters with their physician. (As noted by CBS News, however, it’s unclear if these phone booths are even in service.)
Many high-traffic outdoor spots that were once public pay phone sites are now home to LinkNYC kiosks (or Links). These accessible-to-all sidewalk telecommunications hubs-slash-digital billboards are equipped with Wi-Fi, USB charging ports for devices, and microphone-equipped keypads or tablets where users can make free nationwide calls. The kiosks, which were first introduced by tech company consortium CityBridge in 2014 following a design competition and formal RFP process launched by former Mayor Bill de Blasio, also provide weather and transit alerts as well as touchscreen access to a social services directory and an emergency call button.
There it goes! The last free-standing pay phones were removed this morning in Times Square. Truly the end of an era but also, hopefully, the start of a new one with more equity in technology access! @LinkNYC is one great way we are achieving this. pic.twitter.com/03lFCT6iI2
— Mark D. Levine (@MBPMarkLevine) May 23, 2022
Installation of the kiosks first began in 2016, and there are now 1,860 active Links spread across all five boroughs. There are plans to expand the program further, with a focus on bridging the digital divide by bringing free and abundant 5G coverage to underserved neighborhoods outside of Manhattan via new Link5g kiosks. The design of the next-gen kiosks, which will be considerably taller than standard Links in order to provide adequate 5g service, was granted limited approval by the New York City Public Design Commission last year.
“As a native New Yorker, saying goodbye to the last street payphone is bittersweet because of the prominent place they’ve held in the city’s physical landscape for decades,” Matthew Fraser, commissioner of the city’s newly established Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, said in a statement shared by CBS News. “Just like we transitioned from the horse and buggy to the automobile and from the automobile to the airplane, the digital evolution has progressed from pay phones to high-speed Wi-Fi kiosks to meet the demands of our rapidly changing daily communications needs.”
The pair of pay phones removed from service today will be on display at the Museum of the City of New York as part of its recently opened Analog City: NYC B.C. (Before Computers) exhibit. You can pay your respects until December 31, when the exhibit closes.