A payphone or pay phone is a public telephone, often located in a phone booth or a privacy hood, with pre-payment by inserting money (usually coin
A coin is a piece of hard material that is standardized in weight, is produced in large quantities in order to facilitate trade, and primarily can be used as a legal tender token for commerce in the designated country, region, or territory....

s), a credit
Credit card
A credit card is a small plastic card issued to users as a system of payment. It allows its holder to buy goods and services based on the holder's promise to pay for these goods and services...

 or debit
Debit card
A debit card is a plastic card that provides the cardholder electronic access to his or her bank account/s at a financial institution...

 card, or a telephone card
Telephone card
A telephone card, calling card or phone card for short, is a small plastic card, sized and shaped like a credit card, used to pay for telephone services. It is not necessary to have the physical card except with a stored-value system; knowledge of the access telephone number to dial and the PIN is...


Payphones are often found in public places, transportation hubs such as airports or train station
Train station
A train station, also called a railroad station or railway station and often shortened to just station,"Station" is commonly understood to mean "train station" unless otherwise qualified. This is evident from dictionary entries e.g...

s, convenience stores, malls, casinos, and on street corners. By agreement with the landlord, either the phone company pays rent for the location and keeps the revenue, or the landlord pays rent for the phone and shares the revenue. Some payphones, particularly at gas stations, are mounted in drive-up structures that can be used without leaving the vehicle.

Payphone revenues have sharply declined in many places, due to the increased usage of mobile phones. Payphone providers have sometimes tried to reverse the decline in usage by offering additional services such as SMS
Short message service
Short Message Service is a text messaging service component of phone, web, or mobile communication systems, using standardized communications protocols that allow the exchange of short text messages between fixed line or mobile phone devices...

 and Internet access, thus making their phone booths into Internet kiosks. The abandonment of payphones by telephone companies has angered some people who consider them a communication staple for low-income and low-credit consumers. In particular, payphones are useful for foreign or generally non-local travelers who need to place local calls, as well as those who simply don't like or cannot afford mobile phones.


United States
Payphones were preceded by pay stations, manned by telephone company attendants who would collect payment for calls placed. In 1889, the first public coin telephone was invented by William Gray
William Gray
-Religious figures and public officials:*William Gray , American politician and merchant who became one of the wealthiest men of his era*William H...

 and installed at a bank in Hartford, Connecticut
Hartford, Connecticut
Hartford is the capital of the U.S. state of Connecticut. The seat of Hartford County until Connecticut disbanded county government in 1960, it is the second most populous city on New England's largest river, the Connecticut River. As of the 2010 Census, Hartford's population was 124,775, making...

. The invention quickly caught on, and by 1902, there were 81,000 payphones in the United States. By 1905, the first outdoor payphones with booths were installed. By the end of 1925, 25,000 of these booths existed in New York City alone. In 1960, the Bell System
Bell System
The Bell System was the American Bell Telephone Company and then, subsequently, AT&T led system which provided telephone services to much of the United States and Canada from 1877 to 1984, at various times as a monopoly. In 1984, the company was broken up into separate companies, by a U.S...

 installed its one millionth telephone booth. After the divestiture of Pacific Bell (California) and AT&T in 1984, it wasn't long before independent stores selling telephones opened up. After that privately owned payphones hit the market. In 2000, there were over 2 million payphones in the United States, today that number is around 700,000, the major carriers AT&T and Verizon have both exited the business, and this market is served by independent payphone companies now.

United Kingdom

United States

In recent years, deregulation
Deregulation is the removal or simplification of government rules and regulations that constrain the operation of market forces.Deregulation is the removal or simplification of government rules and regulations that constrain the operation of market forces.Deregulation is the removal or...

 in the United States has allowed payphone service provided by a variety of companies. Such telephones are called customer-owned coin-operated telephones (COCOT), and are mostly kept in as good condition as compared with a payphone owned and operated by the local telephone company. COCOT contracts are usually more generous to the landlord than telco ones, hence telco payphones on private premises have been more often replaced than street phones. One common implementation
Implementation is the realization of an application, or execution of a plan, idea, model, design, specification, standard, algorithm, or policy.-Computer Science:...

 is operated by vending machine
Vending machine
A vending machine is a machine which dispenses items such as snacks, beverages, alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets, consumer products and even gold and gems to customers automatically, after the customer inserts currency or credit into the machine....

 companies and contains a hardwired list of non-toll telephone exchange
Telephone exchange
In the field of telecommunications, a telephone exchange or telephone switch is a system of electronic components that connects telephone calls...

s to which it will complete calls.

In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, the coin rate for a local direct-dialed station-to-station call from a payphone has been 50¢ in most areas since mid-2001, for an unlimited number of minutes. During the 1960s and 1970s, the same call in the United States and Canada typically cost 10¢. In inflation adjusted terms, in 2006 USD, this was 68¢ in 1960, and 28¢ in 1979. While some areas only cost 5¢, smaller companies occasionally charged as high as 15¢ to 20¢. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, this price gradually changed to 20¢, and again rose to 25¢ in some areas between 1985 and 1990 (47¢-39¢, inflation adjusted terms as above). In the late 1990s, the price rose to 35¢ in many areas. However, in most areas in California, for instance, the price is very often 50 cents a call (note that pay telephones rarely, if ever, accept 50 cent pieces (half-dollars). New York City is a notable exception, where Verizon's and other companies' phones still cost 25 cents for 4 minutes, except in hotels and airports. Verizon tried raising the price to 50 cents, but lowered it to 25 cents after customers started using their competitors' phones.

In the United States, a payphone operator
Telephone operator
A telephone operator is either* a person who provides assistance to a telephone caller, usually in the placing of operator assisted telephone calls such as calls from a pay phone, collect calls , calls which are billed to a credit card, station-to-station and person-to-person calls, and certain...

 collects an FCC
Federal Communications Commission
The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the United States government, created, Congressional statute , and with the majority of its commissioners appointed by the current President. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the...

-mandated fee of 49.4¢ from the owner of a toll-free number for each call successfully placed to that number from the payphone. This results in many toll-free numbers rejecting calls from payphones in an attempt to avoid this surcharge; calling cards which require the caller to dial through a toll-free number will often pass this surcharge back to the caller, either as a separate itemized charge, a 50¢ to 90¢ increase in the price of the call, or (in the case of many pre-paid calling cards) the deduction of an extra number of minutes from the balance of the pre-paid card.

Between 2007 and 2008 the number of payphones in the United States in operation declined by 58 percent.


Most payphones in Canada are owned and operated by large telecom providers like Bell
Bell Canada
Bell Canada is a major Canadian telecommunications company. Including its subsidiaries such as Bell Aliant, Northwestel, Télébec, and NorthernTel, it is the incumbent local exchange carrier for telephone and DSL Internet services in most of Canada east of Manitoba and in the northern territories,...

, Telus
Telus is a national telecommunications company in Canada that provides a wide range of telecommunications products and services including internet access, voice, entertainment, video, and satellite television. The company is based in Burnaby, British Columbia, part of Greater Vancouver...

 and Sasktel
Saskatchewan Telecommunications is a provincial Crown Corporation operating under the authority of the Saskatchewan Telecommunications Act. It is the only remaining Crown Corporation in the Canadian telecommunications industry....

. In the last 20 years customer-owned coin-operated telephones (COCOT) have also appeared in the market, but their numbers are smaller due to emergence of cellular phones.

Pricing on most local payphone calls is now 50 cents CAD, having increased from 25 cents in the past few years. Pay phones in Alberta were 35 cents for a time, but in most jurisdictions the price simply doubled. Newer phones allow users to use calling cards and credit cards.

Dialing 0 for operator and 911 calls are still free.

United Kingdom

In the UK, as in the USA, payphones have been deregulated. The great majority of them are still operated by British Telecom but there are other providers, mostly in urban areas. Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

, London, Cardiff
Cardiff is the capital, largest city and most populous county of Wales and the 10th largest city in the United Kingdom. The city is Wales' chief commercial centre, the base for most national cultural and sporting institutions, the Welsh national media, and the seat of the National Assembly for...

 and Glasgow
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands...

 at the turn of the 21st century have a greater concentration of non-BT payphones. BT has steadily been removing payphones throughout the UK since 2000 where BT deem the kiosks not to be profitable, and have few or no calls made in any given financial year.

Kiosk adoption
BT however is offering local communities the option of adopting the iconic Red K6 Kiosks
Red telephone box
The red telephone box, a public telephone kiosk designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, is a familiar sight on the streets of the United Kingdom, Malta, Bermuda and Gibraltar, and despite a reduction in their numbers in recent years, red boxes can still be seen in many places and in current or former...

 due to strong opposition from the communities that the kiosks reside in. This will mean the removal of the phone, leaving the empty kiosk in-situ. A bizarre feature of the adoption contract is section 5.5.4 which prohibits the re-installation of a telephone in the kiosk. BT has been asked to delete section 5.5.4 (because it is anti-competitive) but it has refused. Ofcom
Ofcom is the government-approved regulatory authority for the broadcasting and telecommunications industries in the United Kingdom. Ofcom was initially established by the Office of Communications Act 2002. It received its full authority from the Communications Act 2003...

 has been asked to refer the matter to the Competition Commission
Competition Commission
The Competition Commission is a non-departmental public body responsible for investigating mergers, markets and other enquiries related to regulated industries under competition law in the United Kingdom...

 but Ofcom has refused to make the referral.

Sponsored kiosk
Another option BT has provided is the sponsored kiosk, that will retain the phone service, and retain the kiosk for an annual fee of around £300 +VAT, whether it is the Red K6 or the newer Aluminium and Glass Kiosks that cannot be adopted.

From June 1, 2010, BT payphones have £0.60 minimum charge which buys the first 30 minutes of any direct dialled national geographic call. Previously the minimum charge was £0.40 for the first 20 minutes of any direct dialled national geographic call. Then before November 2006 the minimum charge was £0.30, before 2004 it was £0.20 and before 2000 it was £0.10. However, making a call using a credit/debit card incurs a minimum charge of £1.20, and includes 1 minute of call time, £0.20 per minute thereafter, as of September 2011.

A BT Chargecard is a considerably cheaper way to call from any UK landline, including Payphones. Other cards which can be used are the Post Office phonecard, Tesco international calling card and many other telephone card
Telephone card
A telephone card, calling card or phone card for short, is a small plastic card, sized and shaped like a credit card, used to pay for telephone services. It is not necessary to have the physical card except with a stored-value system; knowledge of the access telephone number to dial and the PIN is...

s which can be bought from newsagents.

The high cost of calls is a deterrent to use and has led to allegations of closure by stealth
Closure by stealth
Closure by stealth is a term most frequently used in the UK and Ireland to refer to the deliberate downgrading of a service by the management or owners with the intention of driving away users or customers. The aim is to make the service uneconomical, and thereby justify its closure or withdrawal...



Australia has two major payphone operators: Telstra
Telstra Corporation Limited is an Australian telecommunications and media company, building and operating telecommunications networks and marketing voice, mobile, internet access and pay television products and services....

 and Tritel.

Telstra has removed some of their payphones, believing them less necessary than in the past. They do not make a profit, because they are used less often and are frequently graffitied, vandalised, smashed and deliberately have their coin slots jammed.

Telstra Payphones are regulated at 50 cents a local call by law and some payphones also have the ability to SMS at 20 cents a message. Some Telstra payphones, especially ones in central city locations, have a teletypewriter facility. Generally, Telstra payphones accept all Australian coins, and Telstra Payphone Cards. However, Telstra has made a security move with most of their payphones, ensuring that money, including change, cannot be retrieved from the machine without opening the cashbox. This was done to stop theft as well as encourage patrons to use Payphone Cards, provided by Telstra. 1800 numbers are also charged free, and therefore a variety of calling cards, such as the Telstra PhoneAway, which has a 1800 number can be called and used too. Telstra payphones can also call +800 (dialled as 0011800 + 8 digits), and 1100 (Dial Before You Dig) without payment. It is also possible to use both Telstra's Telecard
Telephone card
A telephone card, calling card or phone card for short, is a small plastic card, sized and shaped like a credit card, used to pay for telephone services. It is not necessary to have the physical card except with a stored-value system; knowledge of the access telephone number to dial and the PIN is...

 and Optus's calling card (which operates on 189xy service numbers) without payment at the payphone.

All payphones can call emergency services (000) without payment.

Telstra has payphones at almost every railway station, on some major streets and in some government buildings.

TriTel operates payphones generally on lease sites - therefore they are usually located inside shopping centres. Most shopping centres, particularly newer ones, will have a TriTel payphone instead of Telstra payphones because it seems TriTel is more lenient in installing payphones.

TriTel payphones are charged at 50 cents per 15 minutes for a local call and most 1800 calls. They accept all Australian coins (Telstra payphones do not accept 5c coins) and TriTel payphone cards which are sold at newsagents. 1800 Reverse
1800 Reverse
1800 REVERSE is a reverse charge call service that is operated by Reverse Corp Ltd in Australia and The Republic of Ireland and via other access numbers in several other countries. A 1800 Reverse charge call is placed by dialing the phoneword 1800 REVERSE 1800 REVERSE is a reverse charge (collect)...

 (for collect call
Collect call
A collect call in the USA and Canada or reverse charge call in the UK and other countries is a telephone call in which the calling party wants to place a call at the called party's expense...

ing) and 1800-TRITEL (their customer service line) can be called without payment at the payphone.

Private payphones can be installed. Most are bought from Telstra, however some can be bought through other special payphone specialists. There are two predominant types of private payphones, one of them no longer supported.

Gold phones used to be very popular and were installed generally in large restaurants/cafes, small shopping centres and other places where there were staff (as the phones were easily vandalised or even stolen due to their compact size) and there wasn't a need for such a big full size payphone. Gold phones were generally small, and had the dialpad and handset on the top of the machine. Gold phones only accepted coins, and had to be wired up to a special payphone subscriber line to allow charging.

Blue phones still seem to be working and are now more popular in the absence of gold phones. They are installed where gold phones were installed, and at some schools. These phones are smaller than their gold phone counterparts. These phones have a front which is slanted/angled and have a dialpad, a small 1 line LED screen and a handset. On the top of the machine is a coin slot. These phones accept coins only, and also need to be wired up to a special payphone subscriber line to allow charging, otherwise calls will not be metered and will go through for free.

As of 30 March 2009, the 50 Hz Metering System was switched off nationwide, meaning unmodified goldphones were rendered inoperable. Bluephones, however will still operate if the owner changes the phones metering settings, done by changing a DIP switch inside the phone (blue phone can recognize either 50 Hz or 12 kHz meter pulses).

However, as mobile phones come to predominate, there is a decrease in payphone usage, except in rural, remote and non metropolitan areas where mobile coverage does not exist.


All payphones on the street and in buildings in Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 are installed and maintained exclusively by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone
Nippon Telegraph and Telephone
, commonly known as NTT, is a Japanese telecommunications company headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. Ranked the 31st in Fortune Global 500, NTT is the largest telecommunications company in Asia, and the second-largest in the world in terms of revenue....



  • 1891: William Gray
    William Gray
    -Religious figures and public officials:*William Gray , American politician and merchant who became one of the wealthiest men of his era*William H...

     patents his coin-operated telephone
  • 1920: General Post Office (United Kingdom) introduces K1 public telephone kiosk


  • Intellicall AstraTel 2 Smart Payphone 1995-
  • Intellicall UltraTel Smart Payphone 1980s-
  • Intellicall Tidel 3 1990s-
  • GTE
    GTE Corporation, formerly General Telephone & Electronics Corporation was the largest independent telephone company in the United States during the days of the Bell System....

     Automatic Electric 120-type

In popular culture

In the 1995 film Hackers
Hackers (film)
Hackers is a 1995 American thriller film directed by Iain Softley and starring Angelina Jolie, Jonny Lee Miller, Renoly Santiago, Matthew Lillard, Lorraine Bracco and Fisher Stevens...

, the characters Razor and Blade briefly explain how to manipulate
Phreaking is a slang term coined to describe the activity of a culture of people who study, experiment with, or explore telecommunication systems, such as equipment and systems connected to public telephone networks. As telephone networks have become computerized, phreaking has become closely...

 payphones to make free calls.

In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live action movies 1 & 2, there is almost always a payphone in the Turtle's lair.

In the film trilogy The Matrix
The Matrix (franchise)
The Matrix is a science fiction action franchise created by Andy and Larry Wachowski and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The series began with the 1999 film The Matrix and later spawned two sequels; The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, both released in 2003, thus forming a trilogy...

, telephones are used to exit from the matrix.

During his trial, American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 hacker Kevin Mitnick
Kevin Mitnick
Kevin David Mitnick is a computer security consultant, author, and hacker. In the late 20th century, he was convicted of various computer- and communications-related crimes. At the time of his arrest, he was the most-wanted computer criminal in the United States.-Personal life:Mitnick grew up in...

 was accused of having the ability to launch nuclear missiles
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

 by whistling into a payphone.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.