Was the Last NYC Pay Phone Really Removed?

Here are the facts behind the endlessly shared viral rumor that claimed New York City removed its "last" and "final" pay phone in May 2022.

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New headlines and tweets and videos claimed that the last and final New York City pay phone or payphone was removed from the city on May 23 2022 but this was false.
Image via TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Claim

The last pay phone in New York City was removed on May 23, 2022.

Rating

Fact Check

On May 23, 2022, various news headlines, tweets, and online videos proclaimed that the “last” or “final” pay phone had been removed from New York City. The way that some headlines were worded likely gave the impression that there were no more pay phones at all left in the city. However, this was not true.

For example, one false headline from a major publisher appeared at the top of Google search results with the headline, “New York City removes the last payphone from service.” Such news stories told of how the city’s LinkNYC service was growing. It seeks to “replace outdated payphones to improve New Yorkers’ access to the internet” by providing “free public Wi-Fi service.”

On Twitter, the account for the NYC Office of Technology and Innovation posted a misleading tweet that read, “Proud to bid farewell to NYC’s final pay phone!”

Another example of how viral this false rumor was came from the verified @timessquare.nyc TikTok account. One of the account’s managers posted a video of the purported final pay phones being removed from the city with the caption, “The last payphone in NYC was removed today from Times Square.” The video received more than 2 million likes and was viewed well over 10 million times in just over 24 hours.

@timessquare.nyc

The last payphone in NYC was removed today in Times Square 📞 #payphone #TimesSquare #NYC #newyorkcity

♬ original sound – ly’ 𝐬

In the hours after the news broke, skeptics began to flood social media platforms with comments saying that the removed Times Square pay phones were not even close to being the last ones remaining in New York City.

On TikTok, one user commented, “This is not true. There are so many still in NYC.” Another person responded, “There’s a payphone on the Upper West Side.” Several other people said they still had pay phones in their own neighborhoods, presumably somewhere in the five boroughs (the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island).

NPR.com wrote of the viral news, “Fear not, nostalgia-seekers and ‘The Matrix’ fans: There are still a handful of pay phones scattered around New York City.” The article clarified that the pay phones removed from Times Square were supposedly the last public pay phones in the city, and that there were still private pay phones owned by businesses that were located throughout New York.

Also mentioned in the NPR story was the fact that there were four walk-in booths that were still active on the Upper West Side of New York City. Such booths have been referred to as “Superman” pay phone booths. (The history of the DC comic book character’s very rare usage of phone booths might run counter to some readers’ memories.)

On top of these four walk-in booths and the private pay phone booths that were still available throughout the city, NPR pointed to reporting from HellgateNYC.com with the headline, “The Death of NYC Pay Phones Has Been Greatly Exaggerated.” The story said that a working public pay phone was found inside the 14th St-Union Square subway station, just a few stops from where the “final” pay phones were removed on May 23. In fact, the blog even said it recorded a call made from the public pay phone.

Much of the effort to document the history of pay phones, including in New York City, can be credited to The Payphone Project, a website that’s been operated by Mark Thomas since 1995.

In response to the false news that New York City’s final pay phone had been removed, The Payphone Project tweeted, “To hell with facts!”

In another tweet, the account replied to the news with, “Not even close to CityBridge’s last public payphone on NYC streets but why let facts get in the way of a superficially superficial story? Kind of a bizarre and meaningless photo op, tbh.”

Also found on The Payphone Project’s Twitter account was a link to the website, payphoneradio.com, which is a “radio stream” that “contains recordings of phone calls made almost entirely from New York City payphones.”

In sum, no, the last pay phones in New York City weren’t removed. Evidence suggested that there were still pay phones available throughout the city, both public and private. For these reasons, we rated the claim that the last pay phone had been removed from New York City on May 23, 2022, as “False.”

Sources:

Carlson, Jen. “Most Of The Last Remaining Pay Phones In NYC Will Be Ripped Out.” Gothamist, 28 Feb. 2020, https://gothamist.com/news/last-remaining-pay-phones-nyc-will-be-ripped-out.

Clark, Roger. “Upper West Side Is Home to City’s Last Remaining Phone Booths.” NY1.com, 26 Feb. 2018, https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2018/02/26/upper-west-side-is-home-to-city-s-last-remaining-phone-booths.

LinkNYC – DoITT. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doitt/initiatives/linknyc.page.

Payphone Radio, from The Payphone Project. http://payphoneradio.com/.

“Superman and the Phone Booth.” Superman Homepage, https://www.supermanhomepage.com/other/other.php?topic=phonebooth.

Treisman, Rachel. “Last Call: New York City Bids an Official Farewell to Its Last Public Pay Phone.” NPR, 24 May 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/05/24/1100931534/last-pay-phone-new-york-city-public-nyc.