New York City removes last of its payphone booths

Many call it 'end of an era' though some phones still remain in subways and other locations

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Marking the end of an era, New York City removed the last of its storied payphone booths this week, which have fallen victim to the ubiquity of free Wi-Fi and mobile phones in recent years.

But Superman fans can take comfort in the fact that Manhattan will keep four of the defunct booths, made famous as the impromptu changing rooms for journalist Clark Kent as he transformed into the Man of Steel.

Over the decades, the phone booths have featured widely in pop culture, from comic books to Hollywood blockbusters and TV shows.

That ended Monday morning, when, in front of assembled media, Manhattan borough president Mark Levine had the last booth housing two Bell System payphones at the corner of 7th Avenue and 50th Street dismantled and lifted on to a flatbed.

Mr Levine said on Twitter he was “on hand today to say 'Bye Bye' one last time to the famed (infamous?) NYC payphone”.

“I won't miss all the dead dial tones but go to say I felt a twinge of nostalgia seeing it go,” he added.

Fixed-line payphones began disappearing from the streets of New York in the early 2000s as mobile phone use spread and then vanished even faster in the 2010s with the explosion of smartphones.

The final blow came when, in 2015, Manhattan went ahead with the installation of thousands of LinkNYC hotspots offering Wi-Fi and free local calls.

Those new kiosks are to be gradually connected to the 5G network.

“Truly the end of an era but also, hopefully, the start of a new one with more equity in technology access,” said Mr Levine, referring to neighbourhoods in northern Manhattan, such as Harlem, that are less well covered by telephone and internet networks.

Local media reported that Manhattan will keep four of the old-fashioned phone booths on the Upper West Side on West End Avenue at 66th, 90th, 100th and 101st streets.

Other payphones around the city continue to exist but only in public transit stations, ferry terminals and in some corner stores.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: May 24, 2022, 5:24 PM