Payphones still popular with a third of Canadians, report finds

Feb 27, 2015 | News

Payphones at Toronto Pearson International Airport (Richard Chung/Flickr)

Payphones at Toronto Pearson International Airport (Richard Chung/Flickr)

By Tiara Samosir

A coin-operated public telephone might seem outdated in the smartphone era we are living in, but turns out Canadians aren’t ready to hang up on payphones just yet.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission released a report on Thursday that 32 per cent of Canadians used a payphone at least once in the past year, which is 50 per cent down from 2014.

However, the CRTC recognizes the importance of payphones in society.

“Although payphones are no longer used as much as in the past, they continue to play an important role in society and serve the public interest,” said the CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais in the report.

Proposed rules

The CRTC is proposing rules the telephone companies must follow before cutting off the last public telephones in any community. Under the rules:

  • The community affected, including municipalities and First Nations areas, must be notified before the last public telephone is taken down.
  • A community where wireless service is not available must also be notified before removing any payphones.
  • People must get clear information on charges for making a call made by credit card, telephone card or another non-cash methods.
  • Canadians living in rural and urban communities would have the opportunity to give their opinions to local authorities regarding the removal of certain payphones.

Lori Kelledjian, telecommunications coordinator at Humber College, said payphone removals aren’t a good idea.

Some people still need a payphone as an alternative in an unexpected situation, she said.

“Sometimes your phone dies,  you don’t have the battery or charger and you need to make a call, or you’re in an emergency situation,” said Kelledjian.

That’s when a “payphone is the only option available,” she said.

“It’s certainly true that the reduction of payphone use is considerable, but I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that everybody is not using it…because there are people, more vulnerable Canadians, that still see value in it,” Blais said in an interview with the National Post.

Payphone use projected to decline

The call volume on payphones is expected to go down 24 per cent over the next few years, and 15 per cent of phones will be removed over that time, Blais told the newspaper.

Meanwhile around the world, some cities have already removed public payphones and adapted them in new ways. New York City, Boston, as well as major cities in Australia and New Zealand are transforming the unused phone booth into Wi-Fi hotspots.

However, the United Kingdom has done more than installing free hotspots.

One hundred of the country’s red iconic phone booths are to be converted into miniature businesses such as cafes, sweet shops and shoe shine stands, according to the Daily Mail.