The odds are pretty good this phone doesn’t work. (Courtesy of Flickr user Paololluch)
MTA pay phones are often a last-ditch solution for stranded Straphangers needing to make an underground call.
Just this Monday, in fact, I saw one subway rider walk approach the pay phone with exceptional caution. This woman in her mid-twenties looked to be running late. She peered into the tunnel at W. 4th St., hoping to spot a glimmer of an approaching F train. With no train nearing the station, she cautiously approached the payphone.
The payphone was your typical subway pay phone. It looked like a few drunk NYU students had probably smacked the receiver around a little. There was nothing growing off of it. But this woman didn’t trust the phone. She pulled a wool glove out of her pocket and then lifted the receiver, holding it an inch or so away from her ear. This woman would have no part of this phone touching her.
Into the slot at the top went the quarter…and into the change return slot fell that very same quarter. Surprising no one on the platform, the pay phone did not work. In fact, according to a newly-released poll by the Straphangers Campaign, nearly a quarter of the NYC subway pay phones are inoperable.
Here’s what the public interest group found:
In one survey of 886 telephones at 100 randomly selected subway stations, 29% were found to be “non-functioning,” with problems ranging from no dial tone to coin slot blocked (survey margin of error is +/- 4%). This finding is consistent with 2006 findings when an identical campaign survey also rated 29% of phones non-functioning.
In a second survey, the campaign tested 537 pay telephones in the 25 most-used New York City Transit subway stations and found 22% to be non-functioning.
Noting that the current contract between Verizon and the MTA does not guarantee any minimum number of working pay phones, members of the Straphangers were a bit dismayed. “Given the importance of being able to communicate with the outside world, especially during times of delay and emergency, we’re disappointed the MTA and Verizon removed the guarantee for a minimum level of service operability,” Neysa Pranger, one of the group’s coordinators, said in a press release.
Two of the Straphangers’ findings, in my mind, raise some interesting questions. The group found that all of the pay phones in the stop on East 86th St. were functioning as were all of the phones at the stop on the West Side IRT at 72nd St. But only 29 percent of the phones at the Jamaica Center stop on the E, J and Z lines were working. Do the socioeconomic conditions of the neighborhoods in which these stops are located have anything to do with the pay phones’ operability?
Meanwhile, as plans to wire the subways for cell service have seemingly faded away, it would probably be useful to have working pay phones in the tunnels. You never know when your train line might break down.