Date
29 May 2017
All coin phones will be gone from MTR stations next year after the lone bidder for the service walked away. Photos: Bloomberg, Ming Pao
All coin phones will be gone from MTR stations next year after the lone bidder for the service walked away. Photos: Bloomberg, Ming Pao

Goodbye, coin phone

Remember those days when you stood in line outside a store to make a phone call?

Or you were paged by a receptionist to take a call (“Mr Chan, line two please”) in a dim sum restaurant?

If you do, you’re over 35.

But soon, you’ll find that another one of those things we distinctly remember is gone.

Because next year, all MTR pay phones (the coin-operated ones) will be history.

It turns out that the lone bidder for the service walked away from the table. 

Just like the typewriter, the coin phone is an idea whose time has come and gone.

In this day of wireless keyboards and smartphones, the few of these beloved conveniences that are still around are more likely to be in storage or in museums.

Some may be in a pile of dump.

But let it not be said that coin phones have no users, although I can’t remember the last time I actually saw someone in a coin-operated booth.

Fixed-line operator Shinetown says 20 calls make a good day, which is about HK$20 (US$2.58) in money termsThere are about 390 phone booths in MTR stations.

No business can survive even in the best of days with such a meager turnover. Some phone booths go for days without being used.

But the few who still use these coin phones probably do it for privacy such as covering their tracks.

Others do it for no other reason than habit. For instance, some people still use Nokia phones of 1990s vintage.

In its heyday, Shinetown operated more than 2,000 phone booths near newspaper stalls and outside herbal stores.

But the mobile phone has decimated the business to just 100 phone booths which account for less than 1 percent of turnover.

The final blow came when MTRC began offering free Wi-Fi.

“This is the end of an era,” Shineway executive director Fan Wing-yiu told Ming Pao Daily.

Legislator Michael Tien says perhaps charging stations could take its place (how about a Samsung or Apple charging shop?).

So what’s going next after the phone booth?

ATMs? Who knows.

With apps linking mobile phones with smart banking and other online financial services, money is just a tap on a touchscreen.

Which leads us to the next question: Is cash going out of fashion?

Probably not next year, or until bitcoin becomes legal tender.

In the meantime, let’s give the coin phone a hearty send-off: Thanks for the memories!  

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BK/JP/RA

EJ Insight writer

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