Remember When: Pay Phones

By Tim Guidera - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) – It wasn't too long ago that making a call from anywhere meant anywhere there was a phone.

But advancing technology has not only provided coin-free dialing, it has freed us from the time restrictions and fixed location of payphones.

"I couldn't even tell you the last time I used one it's been so long,'' said Candy Geiter, of Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. "And I don't know what I would do if I needed one because they don't exist."

"A few weeks ago, I needed to find a pay phone,'' added Savannah's Matthew Burbridge, "and I couldn't find one.''

You do have to look a lot harder now.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, the number of pay phones on U.S. Streets has dropped 65 percent in the last decade.

But judging by how those still around are largely broken or totally ignored, they are closer to 100 percent obsolete.

"You might see one now and then in an airport,'' said Geiter, "but that's about it.''

Seeing someone actually use one is another matter.

Even at Savannah's Greyhound Bus station, unpredictable timing and the need for communication were not enough to save the pay phones. Not only has the number of phones been reduced, they've been replaced by a bank of outlets, where people can charge their cell phones.

Most people might not even notice the missing payphones, until they need one.

"I needed one last night,'' said Janice Wiltmon, who was visiting Savannah from Montochie, Miss., when her car was towed. "Truthfully, we couldn't find our car on Montgomery Street. We probably walked about an hour, in the rain, down Martin Luther King Drive. It was an emergency, I spent part of the night in the back of a police car.''

Such emergencies are the only remaining argument in favor of preserving pay phones.

"I would like to see maybe one or two more,'' said Burbridge. "You know every few blocks just so I can know, oh there's a pay phone, I can use that pay phone as an emergency pay phone, really.''

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