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Almost 90% of remaining public payphones removed in last six months

There are now just 51 public payphone locations in the State.

File image of an Eircom phone box in 1999.
File image of an Eircom phone box in 1999.
Image: Rollingnews.ie

THE NUMBER OF public payphones across the country has been cut by almost 90% since June with over 400 phones removed from service.

New figures published by Eir show that there are now only 51 public payphone locations left in the State – down from 456 just six months ago.

The figures, which exclude payphones located in private areas or with restricted access, highlight the impact of the widespread ownership of mobile phones on the usage of public payphones.

Only seven public payphones remain in Dublin after 181 were decommissioned in the past six months including several kiosks on O’Connell Street.

Cork currently has the highest number of public payphones of any county with 13, although the total has been reduced from 65 since the end of June.

Ten counties no longer have any public payphone:  Wicklow, Sligo, Longford, Meath, Monaghan, Louth, Donegal, Laois, Tipperary and Leitrim.

The figures come as the telecom regulator, ComReg confirmed that it was no longer appropriate to require Eir to operate and maintain public payphones under a “universal service obligation” (USO) from tomorrow.

For the last few years, Eir was obliged to maintain the existing number of public payphones unless their usage fell below a specified threshold level, despite the company’s objections.

“There is simply no justification for an intrusive regulatory intervention in the form of a payphone USO,” an Eir spokesperson said.

According to Eir, there were only nine payphones in the Republic at the start of 2020 which generated enough usage to meet the threshold.

However, ComReg claimed such a “dynamic approach” had ensured that end-users who used public payphones could still access them, while allowing Eir the commercial freedom to remove those phones for which there was no longer a reasonable public demand.

Payphones were also withdrawn from use if there was evidence of anti-social behaviour or if requested by a local authority.

The regulator said it was satisfied that the needs of consumers in future will be met by alternatives such as commercially provided payphones.

ComReg said an analysis of calls from public payphones over the past three years showed their usage had declined considerably.

Research showed they are predominantly used to access emergency services and freephone numbers.

However, figures show the number of calls to emergency services from payphones has declined by 49% since 2018, while calls to two help lines which dominate the freephone access calls have decreased by 65%.

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Based on current trends, ComReg said it projected that usage of public payphones would continue to decline significantly in the years ahead.

“While public payphones may provide a basic service to a very small cohort of end-users who may have limited means of making a call and who seek a level of anonymity when contacting freephone numbers  of a sensitive nature, the majority of end users appear to be increasingly utilising alternative methods,” the regulator said.

The number of public payphones nationally has been falling continuously for over a decade after Eir removed almost 2,000 out of 3,500 payphones in 2009 as part of a rationalisation programme.

Where public payphones were required by local authorities, Eir said it would offer to remove remaining payphones and replace them with digital kiosks operated by Clear Channel which include a payphone as well as an interactive digital screen, wayfinding/mapping system and digital advertising display.

Dublin City Council has already approved 24 applications for planning permission for such kiosks.

Eir also suggested a consultation process launched by ComReg on public payphones was a waste of the regulator’s resources which it had failed to carry out “in a timely and meaningful matter.”

ComReg said it would keep the need for public payphones under review and would reinstate a universal service obligation again if necessary.

About the author:

Seán McCárthaigh

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