How Hurricane Sandy forced NYC to reconnect with pay phones

With cell phone service knocked out and no electricity in many parts of New York City in the wake of superstorm Sandy, people are waiting in lines to use a relic from the past - the pay phone.

"I didn't even know they were working," New York City resident Leslie Koch said about the public pay phones in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Earlier this week Koch celebrated her blast with the past when she used the antiquated device by taking a picture of it and posting it to her Twitter account with a caption that said, "This is called a pay phone. Used one today to call my mom from #NYC."

Koch is one of many New Yorkers who had been walking past pay phones on a daily basis and didn't pay them any attention.


"It's funny what's hiding in plain sight," Jordan Spak, a 32-year-old television marketer told the Journal. "It's invisible, but when you need it, it's there."

In the storm's aftermath, throngs of residents are using the old-fashioned contraptions as a last resort to connect to family and friends, because millions of people lost power during the storm rendering their cellphones, iPads, computers and other state-of-the-art technology useless.

Alison Caporimo, 24, who lives in Manhattan, told the Journal she didn't even know how to operate a public pay phone before Tuesday admitting, "I lost a lot of coins" while trying to figure out how to use the outdated machine.

Although many New Yorkers are dependent on modern gadgetry, during times of distress, such as after the 11 September terrorist attacks, the city has become reliant on pay phones that usually stay in service even during flooding. In fact, one of the most daunting challenges with using the devices during an emergency is keeping them free of coin overloads, the Journal reported.

"During disasters, we sometimes have to empty them every day," Thomas Keane, chief executive officer of Pacific Telemanagement Services, said. "It takes 300 to 400 calls a day for that to happen."

The dependency on the retro technology this week comes just months after New York announced a pilot programme to convert several pay phones around the city into free Wi-Fi hotspots.

There are about 12,000 public pay phones in New York City, 27,000 fewer than 20 years ago, according to the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, which regulates the city's pay phones.


Updated Date: Nov 04, 2012 11:31 AM

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