In the days before cellphones became a thing, if you had to make a phone call on the go you had to get some change and head over to a payphone. No U.S. city is more connected to payphones than the city of New York. Since 2007 (the year that Apple unveiled the iPhone), the number of payphones in the U.S. declined by 48%. And as smartphone use rose sharply, payphones and phone booths both were taken down. In 2016, New York City started replacing some of them with free Wi-Fi kiosks that now have over 5 million users.
As of 2018, there were 1,700 of these kiosks in the city using fiber optics to deliver Wi-Fi at a rate 100 times faster than the Wi-Fi generally available to the public. Each kiosk can connect hundreds of mobile device users with Wi-Fi as long as they are standing within 150-feet of the structure. The "booth" also includes a tablet that is free to use and the public can also make free phone calls. The companies involved in the project share advertising revenue. Outside of the fact that the browser had to be disabled on each kiosk's tablet (it was being used by some homeless New Yorkers to visit porn sites), the free Wi-Fi booths have been a useful addition to the New York City landscape.
According to ABC News and its WABC affiliate in the Big Apple, 30 payphones will be removed from Hell’s Kitchen by the end of this month. As the year continues, the last 3,000 units will be dug up and removed from all five boroughs. On Friday, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson explained why the city wants to remove the obsolete equipment. He said, "My office has received numerous community complaints from local residents about these antiquated payphones, which present public safety and quality of life issues. Additionally, they take up sorely needed sidewalk space that could better serve people with disabilities, families with strollers and ease sidewalk congestion."Now, the city has decided to get rid of all of its remaining payphones.
Distinct from the payphone, there are now only four phone booths left in New York City, all found on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at West End Avenue on 66th Street, 90th Street, 100th Street and 101st Street. These booths have sliding doors that close for privacy and also block traffic and outside noises from interfering with a call. Some booths also have a copy of the Yellow Pages and the White Pages for those who need to look up a number or address. If you've never seen a phone booth before, just remember it as the place where Clark Kent turned into Superman.