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On Patrol

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why we still need public payphones

In defence of the oft-forgotten call boxes.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2015 at 1:18 PM

Clark Kent is out of luck on Windsor Street.
  • Clark Kent is out of luck on Windsor Street.

One of the more scenic disasters winter has jammed down Halifax’s throat is this snow-filled phone booth outside the Halifax Forum.
 Bell Aliant is responsible for the booth’s upkeep, and to their credit a technician flushed the icy mess out a few days after The Coast reported the problem.

While phone booth stuffing is (apparently) “one of the all-time great fads,” this barely-usable box instead seemingly fell victim to a culture increasingly uninterested in public payphone service. Which is cause for concern.

In a report released last month, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission found payphone call volumes have been falling steadily by 24 percent a year. The number of payphones in Canada—roughly 55,000—is a third of what it was a decade ago. Yet 32 percent of Canadians say they’ve used a public payphone at least once in the past year.


Meanwhile phone companies are increasingly yanking out the costly service. Bell and other companies told the CRTC they’re paying to maintain 636 pay phones that haven’t been used in more than a year.

Money losers for thirsty corporations like Bell, yes, but payphones can be vital for low-income and high-risk communities. Those without access to landline or cellular phones still rely on payphones. The same can be said for anyone in an emergency. It's not the quantity of call volume, but the importantance of those few calls that are made that prove the need for this public service.

“Although payphones are no longer used as much as in the past, they continue to play an important role in society and serve the public interest,” said CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais in a press release. “For this reason, we want to make sure that Canadians are notified when certain payphones are removed in their communities, and that they have the opportunity to share their concerns with local authorities.”

Previously, the CRTC didn’t allow removing the last public telephone from a community. But now the CRTC is loosening that requirement by letting telephone companies take away the service provided they “notify communities affected, including municipalities and First Nations.”

The new regulation probably won’t amount to much. Rural and urban “communities” and advocacy groups could take their concerns to government forces, but there’s no requirement for the tech companies to listen.

Halifax, meanwhile, is happily marching to offer free wi-fi in the downtown. It’s a welcome idea, but the city should remain vigilant in coming years that those unable (or unwilling) to own a phone aren’t left out in the cold.

If you spot any payphones needing repairs, Bell Aliant spokesperson Katherine VanBuskirk says to phone 611 (presumably on your mobile).

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ferry terminal lacks fountains

Waterfront facility runs bone dry.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 2:36 PM

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.
  • Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.

What’s wrong?
There’s a drought of drinking fountains at the Alderney Ferry Terminal. Thirsty travellers are perfectly free to enjoy a refreshing drink at the Halifax and Woodside terminals. Only Alderney remains inexplicably dry. The only option for paying customers on the Dartmouth side who want H2O is the lukewarm, fecal-infused liquid coming from the bathroom taps.

Public washroom sink at the Bridge Terminal.
  • Public washroom sink at the Bridge Terminal.

Who’s to blame?
I don’t know...historical momentum? City spokesperson Tiffany Chase, keeper of all transit secrets, had no idea why the Dartmouth terminal is without a fountain.

“We don’t have a particular reason why there isn’t one at Alderney and there is at the other two,” she says.

The municipality’s bylaws ridiculously don’t demand public facilities install free, clean, accessible drinking options. The closest thing is this motion from 2010 where council voted to phase out bottled water “where possible” in all HRM administrative and operational facilities.

On a big environmental kick that year, HRM facility staff tested water quality at a variety of locations to ensure staff and the public had access to clean, free drinking water from an “aesthetically suitable source.” The city defines that as a clean kitchen tap, fountain or bottle filling station. “Not a tap in a janitorial closet sink.”

“Any major repair requirements or absences of drinking infrastructures will be put into future facility recapitalization or maintenance programs,” the 2010 report reads. “With the exception of a small number of facilities, there is no work required to provide the public and staff access to clean, free drinking water.”


The responsibility is ultimately yours then, parched public transit rider. Tiffany Chase recommends phoning 311 with demands for drinking fountains at Alderney or any other HRM facility (I’m told there’s no fountain at the Bridge Terminal, either) in order to get the water flowing.

“If that was something passengers expressed we could certainly look at it.”

Caution: wet floor, dry terminal.
  • Caution: wet floor, dry terminal.

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In Print This Week

Vol 28, No 3
November 12, 2020

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