Call of the times: Britain’s iconic phone booths on the way out

Time & Us
Last Updated: August 29, 2017 at 2:56 am

London: The red phone booth is as much a British icon as Queen Elizabeth, Big Ben and Shakespeare – you can see many tourists snapping themselves against them every day – but in the mobile and digital age, thousands are due to scrapped.

At one time, there were 92,000 booths across the United Kingdom and queues were a familiar sight, with some impatient customers tapping the glass, urging callers to get on with it. Now they are no longer cost effective to its owner, British Telecom.

Many remain unused for the purposes they were created, now increasingly home to the original messengers: pigeons, gathering junk and worse. Some entrepreneurs have adopted them and turned them into libraries and places to charge mobile phones.

But some have turned into unofficial public urinals, particularly frequented during heady weekends. Nearly a third are only used once a month, and many are never used at all.

The cost of maintaining them has reportedly gone up to £6 million a year. BT has decided to scrap 20,000 booths, even though nearly 33,000 calls a day are still made from them (minimum cost is 60 pence for a call, enough for several minutes and texts on a mobile).

A BT spokeswoman told The Guardian: “BT is committed to providing a public payphone service, but with usage declining by over 90% in the last decade, we continue to review and remove payphones which are no longer used.”

The boxes will need to be removed according to communications regulator Ofcom’s guidelines. If there is no other payphone within 400 metres, the local authority must be notified, and the box would only be removed if there were no objections.

BT hopes to encourage communities to adopt some booths by paying £1. As many as 4,300 have already been converted into art centres, sites for lifesaving defibrillation equipment and local information points.