When was the last time you used a pay phone? When was the last time you saw one? With unprofitable phone boxes disappearing throughout the country, maybe it’s time to use them before they’re gone for good.
In some parts of the country it seems phone boxes are as rare as Dr Who’s Tardis. So where have all the pay phones gone?
Back in 2002 there were 92,000 payphones – today there are 53,000 and just 12,500 are the iconic red box. Why the sudden decline? It follows a deliberate culling exercise, in which little-used ‘unprofitable’ boxes were systematically removed.
The rules for this are complicated, but BT is required to provide public phones under a universal service obligation. BT has to go through a consultation process with the local authority if it wants to remove the last box from a ‘site’. They’ll have to consider the nature of the surrounding area, the phone’s proximity to an accident ‘blackspot’ and how well-used it is.
Fans of the phone box
But the humble phone box still has its fans. English Heritage has given 2,340 boxes listed status and others have been sponsored by the council, which pays BT an annual fee to keep them open. Another 500 boxes have had the phone removed but been ‘adopted’. This means the empty box has been purchased for a nominal sum and left in situ.
Now that most of us have mobile phones, the decline of the payphone is perhaps unsurprising. But in my mind they’re still useful in lots of situations. Railway stations, hospitals and areas with a poor mobile signal to name a few.
Why use a payphone?
BT reports that 200,000 calls are made from pay phones each day, but that usage has halved in the last two years, with 10% used only once a month and 58% being unprofitable.
Callbox charges went up recently, with the minimum cost jumping 50% to 60p. If you use a credit card to pay for your call, the minimum is £1.20. The new rates sound pretty expensive, particularly for a quick call to say your train’s running late. But BT’s pricing policy is worth considering more closely.
The first 40p pays for a ‘connection charge’, but after this you get 15 minutes of call time for each 10p. So, in effect, the minimum cash payment of 60p gives you a full 30 minutes to any UK landline. That works out at a rate of 2p per minute.
This is pretty competitive set against mobile rates and even compares favourably with BT’s standard tariff for householders. For a 15 minute call, the phonebox costs 60p – calling from home could cost up to 88p and using a pay as you go mobile £1.55.
Rather than grumbling about the hike from 40p, perhaps we ought to start using call boxes more often. As individuals we’d save money on our mobile and by boosting the takings of a favourite box we might push up its ‘profitability’ and save it from the chop.