This article is about the American English name for a public telephone. For the song by Maroon 5, see Payphone (song).

A payphone (alternative spelling: pay phone) is typically a coin-operated public telephone, often located in a telephone booth or a privacy hood, with pre-payment by inserting money (usually coins) or by billing a credit or debit card, or a telephone card. Prepaid calling cards also facilitate establishing a call by first calling the provided toll-free telephone number, entering the card account number and PIN, then the desired connection telephone number. An equipment usage fee may be charged as additional units, minutes or tariff fee to the collect/third-party, debit, credit, telephone or prepaid calling card when used at payphones.

Payphones are often found in public places. 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.

Payphones in countries with unstable currencies have used token coins, available for sale at a local retailer, to activate pay phones instead of legal tender coins. In some cases these have been upgraded to use magnetic cards or credit card readers.



Most payphones in Canada are owned and operated by large telecom providers such as Bell, Telus and SaskTel. 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 mobile phones.

The cost of most local payphone calls is 50 cents CAD, having increased from 25 cents since 2007.[1] 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. For coin-paid long distance, COCOTs are less expensive for short calls (typically $1 for three minutes) than incumbent providers (whose rates start near $5 for the first minute).

Dialing 0 for operator and 911 calls are still free.

The Toronto Transit Commission deploys payphones on all subway platforms as a safety precaution; a blue "Crisis Link" button on 141 payphones connects directly with Distress Centres of Canada as a free suicide prevention measure.[2]

As of 2013, there were about 70,000 payphones across the country.[3]


The payphone model 23, introduced at Deutsche Bundespost Telekom in 1992, is an electronic software controlled payphone for analog connections. It is equipped with coin, (Template:Lang-ge), and integrated test program setting. It has a remote maintenance, the independent reports of a background system by means of an integrated modem error (for example, defects in components, lack of listeners), operating states (for example, full coin box) or departures (for example standing open the cartridge mounting door, missing coin) to the all public pay telephones of Deutsche Telekom AG are turned on.

The Payphone 23 consists of two basic units, the equipment part including all the necessary for the operation modules (BG) and the secured below the growing payphone cassettes with the coin box.


Main article: Public call office


The majority of payphones on the street and in buildings in Japan are installed and maintained by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT).


In the Soviet period different types of payphones were produced. There were also long-distance call payphones costing 15 kopeiks, and also provided services of a paid media such as listening to an anecdote, obtain legal advice, find the address of the subscriber by phone number. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the monetary reform of 1991 this form of payment has become irrelevant. Some payphones have undergone modifications: coin acceptors were altered to accept coins or replace the card reader. For example, in St Petersburg payment for pay phone can be made with metro tokens. In some regions, calls from public phones are free of charge.

United Kingdom

Main article: Red telephone box

In the UK 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, London, Cardiff and Glasgow at the turn of the 21st century have a greater concentration of non-BT payphones. Since BT has been removing payphones which are unprofitable, have few or no calls made in a financial year.

Kiosk adoption

BT allows local communities to adopt [4] the iconic Red K6 Kiosks due to strong opposition to their removal from the communities that the kiosks reside in. This will mean the removal of the phone, leaving the empty kiosk in-situ.[5]

Sponsored kiosk

Another option BT has provided is the sponsored kiosk,[6] 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 1 June 2010, BT payphones have £0.60 minimum charge which is for 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.[7]

A BT Chargecard[8] is a considerably cheaper way to call from any UK landline, including Payphones. Other cards which can be used are the Post Office phonecard,[9] Tesco international calling card[10] and many other telephone cards which can be bought from newsagents.

Cost examples

There is a 40p connection charge, in addition to the "per minute" charges shown below, and a minimum charge of 60p.[11]

Call prefix Type of call Seconds per 10p block Cost per minute
01 To BT landline 900 0.67p
0870 Non-geographic 30 20p
079 Mobile 9.5 63p

United States

Payphones were preceded by pay stations, manned by telephone company attendants who would collect rapid payment for calls placed. The Connecticut Telephone Co. reportedly had a payphone in their New Haven office beginning 1 June 1880; the fee was handed to an attendant. In 1889, a public telephone with a coin-pay mechanism was installed at the Hartford Bank in Hartford, Connecticut by the Southern New England Telephone Co. It was a "post-pay" machine; coins were inserted at the end of a conversation. The coin mechanism was invented by William Gray; he was issued a series of patents for his devices, beginning with US#454470 issued 23 Jun 1891 for a 'Signal Device for Telephone Pay-Stations' which rang a bell for each coin inserted. He subsequently founded the Telephone Pay Station Co. in 1891.[12] The "pre-pay" phone debuted in Chicago in 1898.[13]

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 installed its one millionth telephone booth. After the divestiture of Pacific Bell (California) and AT&T in 1984, it was not long before independent stores selling telephones opened up. After that privately owned payphones hit the market.

Sources differ as to whether the peak number of payphones in the United States was 2.6 million in 1995[14] or 2.2 million in 2000.[15] As of 2013, the number is reportedly less than 500,000.[16] The major carriers, AT&T and Verizon, have both exited the business, leaving the market to be served by independent payphone companies.[17]

A Verizon payphone on a street corner in the Eastern United States

In recent years, deregulation 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 is operated by vending machine companies and contains a hard-wired list of non-toll telephone exchanges to which it will complete calls.

In the United States, a payphone operator collects an FCC-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.

Since 2007, the number of payphones in the United States in operation has declined by 48%. In July 2009, AT&T officially stopped supporting the Public Payphone service. Over 139,000 locations were sold in 2009.



In the Superman comic books and live action films, Clark Kent routinely uses a phone booth to change into his Superman costume. Similarly, Underdog also changes into his costume from a shoe-shine vendor using a phone booth, however, with total demolition of the booth and phone set.

A pay phone booth was used as a time machine in the 1989 film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

The 2002 film Phone Booth takes place in a phone booth. The main character is held hostage in it for a whole day. He has been using the payphone to call his mistress so that his wife will not see the telephone number on their cellular telephone bill.

A Mojave phone booth in an isolated area of the Mojave National Preserve miles from the paved road was the subject of an Internet meme and a 2006 independent film, Mojave Phone Booth. The original Pacific Bell booth was removed in 2000; for nostalgia, Lucky225 assigned its number (1-760-733-9969) to an open conference bridge in 2013.

See also


  1. Hopper, Tristin (3 April 2012). "What the #!%*? Bell Canada looks to raise payphone rates 100%, again". National Post. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  2. Kalinowski, Tess (16 June 2011). "Woman's mental illness inspires TTC's suicide prevention program". Toronto Star. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  3. "Phone booths are down in Edmonton but not completely out". Edmonton Sun. 2014-03-08. Retrieved 2014-12-23.
  4. "Adopt a Kiosk |". Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  5. "Adopt a Kiosk |". 2011-04-12. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  6. "Adopt a Kiosk |". Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  7. "Payphones and Calling Cards from BT - Public payphones - payment prices". Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  8. "". 2011-10-21. Retrieved 2014-04-25.
  10. "". Retrieved 2014-04-25.
  11. "BT Price List". Retrieved 2014-04-25.
  12. Robertson, Patrick (2011). Robertson's Book of Firsts. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 1608197387.
  13. Newton, Harry (2006). Newton's Telecom Dictionary. Backbeat Books. p. 687. ISBN 1578203198.
  14. CHRISTIAN BERG (2001-03-18). "Pay phones reached their peak in "95 - Morning Call". Morning Call. Retrieved 2014-04-10.
  15. Howard Yune (2012-09-01). "Pay phones: forgotten but not gone". Retrieved 2014-04-10.
  16. "FAQs about the Payphone Industry". American Public Communications Council, Inc. Retrieved 2013-01-23.
  17. Bensinger, Greg (12 October 2011). "Era ends as Verizon drops most of its pay phones". The Wall Street Journal Market Watch. MarketWatch, Inc. Retrieved 2013-01-23.
  18. "Complete Smart Payphones". Intellicall. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  19. "Telephone World - GTE / Automatic Electric Pay Telephones". 2008-12-20. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
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