The pay phone may not be extinct quite yet on the Metro system. The transit agency is considering a short-term plan to keep at least one public line live in each station for emergencies. But what once was a moneymaker for the agency now would come with a cost: $110,000 per year.


The Washington Examiner first reported, the agency faces a crossroads with its 1,074 pay phones. Its 10-year contract with Verizon, which earned the agency $10 million, is slated to expire in March. Verizon didn't want to continue the arrangement because it has been losing money on pay phones as cell phones proliferate. The phone company lost $400,000 on the contract in 2009, and by last year the losses had climbed to $500,000, according to Metro.

No other companies wanted to pay for the phones when Metro sought new bids. One group offered to charge Metro $85 per month per phone, which would cost the financially challenged agency as much as the old deal brought in.

Now Metro is proposing to take out all phones but one per station. The phones would be only TTY, text telephones that can be used by those with hearing impairments, until upgrades to the cell phone service are complete.

The agency plans to ask a board committee to weigh in on the proposal Thursday. Also under consideration would be three other options: Pay $1 million per year to keep the current phones, remove all the phones, or add the TTY phones while keeping a handful of revenue-turning regular pay phones.

Metro does not yet have cell phone service throughout its underground system, creating potential problems during an emergency or for those with disabilities who need help.

"Metro has no legal requirement to maintain pay phones in the system, but has an interest in maintaining emergency communications capabilities for Metro riders with accessibility needs," the agency said in a report.

The transit agency is upgrading cell phone reception as part of a deal with Congress to secure $1.5 billion in federal funding over 10 years. But the service isn't required to be operational throughout the system until October 2012.