Freeway Call Boxes Going the Way of Pay Phones — Extinct - NBC 7 San Diego

Freeway Call Boxes Going the Way of Pay Phones — Extinct

The ubiquity of cell phones is making the lifeline for stranded motorists not as necessary as before.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Freeway Call Boxes Going the Way of Pay Phones — Extinct
    SANDAG

    "It's a sign of the times," the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) vice-chair said.

    The iconic yellow call boxes lining the side of the freeways in San Diego are going the way of the dodo and you can blame progress for that.

    SANDAG, the agency overseeing the call boxes, is removing them from urban highways throughout San Diego starting this month and will continue until June because people just aren't using them much anymore.

    Think about it, when was the last time you used the box when you were stranded on the side of the road?

    "Most people now own cell phones and don’t need a roadside call box in emergencies," vice-chair Steve Vaus said. "The decrease in call volume proves that."

    He has hard data to back that up. Calls from call boxes dropped from a peak of 140,000 in 1993 to 11,000 in 2017 — a drop of roughly 92 percent, according to SANDAG.


    SANDAG's board of directors voted in October 2017 to reduce the number of call boxes from 1,259 to 379, which means all the urban-area boxes will be removed and the number of boxes in rural areas will be reduced.

    "It is time to reduce the cost of maintaining call boxes where cell phone signal strength is strong and dependable," he said.

    Rural areas where cell signals are weak will still have all their call boxes while the places with stronger signals will see the number of boxes reduced, SANDAG said.

    Roadside signs will be installed in place of some of the removed call boxes with a message to call 511 for roadside assistance. Motorists can say "Roadside Assistance" to connect to a live operator 24 hours day.

    The first emergency call boxes in the U.S. were installed by the Gamewell Company of Newton, Massachusetts in the 1880s, according to the company's website. Those boxes telegraphed the location of the call to the central fire station whenever the lever was pulled.

    Roadside emergency call boxes in San Diego were introduced in 1985, funded by a $1 regional fee on vehicle registration. The call boxes were maintained by the San Diego Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies until 2013 when Gov. Jerry Brown dismantled the agency and SANDAG took over.

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