Sorry Superman, Can't Change Here: D.C. Metro To Eliminate Phone Booths

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(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) D.C.'s Metro announced this morning it will eliminate almost all of the 1,074 pay phones in its train stations.

The reason why shouldn't be surprising to anyone who has ever seen someone who appeared to be talking loudly to themselves but was actually using one of those tiny Bluetooth thingies in their ear: cell phones are pretty prevalent nowadays. It seems like everyone has one. Yes, everyone.

Long, long ago, you had to find a phone booth (and a quarter) to make a phone call. Now, if you have a cell phone, you just have to find something to say - and even that's not always necessary.

Metro was contracting with Verizon to operate the phone booths in its many train stations. The revenue these phone booths generated had been declining for years, but, according to Metro's numbers, the phones turned a profit for Verizon as recently as 2007. (I know, I was surprised too.)

In 2009, however, Metro's pay phones went into the red; they cost Verizon $400,000. The next year, 2010, Verizon lost another $500,000 on the phone contract. At this point, Metro says the phones get used on average for one call per day per phone.

As you might expect, Verizon did not opt to renew its contract. Metro looked for other companies to step in, but the best offer they received would've cost them more than $80,000 a year. Under the old contract, Metro was earning $1 million per year.

So, given this scenario, Metro decided it wasn't worth the trouble. They're getting rid of all but 108 of their pay phones, and the ones they're keeping have special TTY capabilities for the hearing impaired.

This decision was made at a Board of Directors meeting this morning, with little attention or comment from the public or any other concerned parties. In other words, the bygone cultural institution of the phone booth is going out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

What would Clark Kent think?

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