There’s Still a Working Pay Phone in This Remote National Park

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AI image of a payphone in yellowstone national park

It doesn’t seem that long ago that you could find payphones in every lobby and on many street corners. Finding one today is much more challenging and nearly impossible in some locations.

However, one famous national park has a couple of these antiques that are still standing. What’s even better, one still works.

Today, we’ll share where you can find these payphones and why they’ll likely remain for the foreseeable future.

Let’s go!

What Are Payphones?

As their name indicates, payphones are telephones available for public use at a cost. Like a vending machine, users insert coins and other forms of payment and then make their phone calls.

Airports, bus terminals, and convenience stores were some of the most common places to find them.

They began appearing throughout the country in the 1930s and continued until their peak in the 1990s.

Shortly before the turn of the millennium, pay phones began disappearing. Despite being practical, you’ll likely rarely spot them today.

Why Were Payphones Removed?

One of the most decisive blows to payphones was the switch to mobile phones. These new high-tech devices made it easier for people to communicate with others from just about anywhere. Today, practically everyone between 12 and 112 years old carries a phone everywhere.

Phone companies relied on funds from people using payphones to provide the service and necessary maintenance. Unfortunately, the rapid decline in their use typically resulted in distributors phasing them out instead of making repairs.

Today, payphones are relatively rare sights. However, they’re not unheard of. Occasionally, you’ll see them in random places or the remains of where they once stood.

Yellowstone National Park Has a Working Payphone

One interesting place to find a set of phones is in the heart of Yellowstone National Park’s Norris Geyser Basin. Unfortunately, a recent user reported that only one of the phones was still in working order. However, it’s still possible to make calls from the phone.

The station has the US West Communications branding. However, the company split into two companies in 1998. It later merged with Qwest in 2000 and remained under the brand until a merger with CenturyLink.

So, we’ll have to wait and see if CenturyLink will repair or replace the damaged payphone. If there’s any area that needs a phone, this is it.

Why Is Yellowstone Keeping This Working Payphone Active?

Yellowstone National Park is a massive NPS unit with some of the most rugged terrains you’ll ever see.

As a result, there are large portions of the park where cell signal is nonexistent.

This can make it nearly impossible to stay in contact with the outside world, especially during an emergency.

Because national parks do all they can to preserve the land and natural environment, the installation of cell towers rarely occurs.

As a result, there’s a good chance that the payphone will remain.

How Does a Collect Call Work?

A collect call is a reverse charge call. This is where the receiving party accepts the charges associated with the call. Again, these were more common before cell phones were popular. Today, you’ll likely only receive a collect call from someone in jail or the hospital.

To make a collect call, the individual dials an operator code, typically “0” or “collect.” They then punch in the number they’re trying to reach. The call passes through to an operator who informs the recipient that someone has requested a collect call with them. The recipient can choose to accept or decline the call.

Later, the individual who accepted the charges will find the fees on their next phone bill. NPR reported that a 30-minute phone call can cost upwards of $5. However, these were prison rates, which typically are the highest.

How Many Payphones Are Left in the United States?

As we mentioned, payphones peaked in the mid-1990s. At the time, there were approximately 2.6 million payphones. We told you they were everywhere. However, that’s no longer the case.

In 2022, Slate reported that there were approximately 100,000 payphones left. Sadly, the number continues to dwindle year after year. Like Blockbuster, there will eventually come a time when you can count them on one hand.

Consider Payphones a Lifeline In Remote Areas

While most people don’t regularly need a payphone, they can be helpful. If you find yourself in a location with no cell signal during an emergency, they can save the day. You can dial 911 and reach an operator who can send help. For the foreseeable future, payphones will remain a critical lifeline for adventurers in remote areas.

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