NYC looking to ‘Reinvent Payphones’

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New York City launched a new initiative asking its residents for designs of the "Payphone of the Future."THE COURIER/Photo by Cristabelle Tumola
New York City launched a new initiative asking its residents for designs of the "Payphone of the Future."

Payphones may appear like anachronisms when residents whiz by them glued to their cellphones, but the seeming artifacts still prove useful, especially in times of emergency.

Payphone usage tripled during Superstorm Sandy in areas affected by the storm, as those without power were forced to use the coin-operated phones to make calls.

To assure that as technology continues to evolve payphones are not left behind, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the  Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) launched the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge, a competition calling on urban designers, planners, technologists and policy experts to create New York’s payphone of the future.

The number of payphones within the five boroughs has shrunk significantly over the past few years. There are currently approximately 11,000 in the city, down from a high of 35,000 in the late 1990s.

“Payphones have been an iconic part of the city’s streetscape for decades, and can be vital lifelines for communication in times of emergency. But to thrive, the payphone of the future needs to offer valuable services at all times, and with various pilot programs already underway, we’re evaluating how some of those amenities are publicly received,” said (DoITT) Commissioner Rahul N. Merchant.

The goal of the competition is to foster innovative ideas to help modernize payphones and optimize use of public space when the city’s current contracts expire in 2014. Modernization of the phones has already begun with 13 already equipped as Wi-Fi hot spots.

Currently, the phones rake in nearly $18 million of revenue each year; $1.2 million from calls and $15.9 million from advertising.

For more information on the competition visit reinventpayphones.splashthat.com.