Bay Area transportation agency votes to reduce roadside phones

The Associated Press
Friday June 28, 2002

OAKLAND — Roadside emergency phones will become fewer and farther between along Bay Area highways under a plan approved Wednesday by the region’s transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency. 

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which maintains the phones, voted to remove about 1,350 emergency call boxes from roadsides at the advice of the agency’s freeway and expressway service panel. The first phones could be disconnected as soon as July, leaving behind 2,150 and saving the agency about $4.7 million over five years. 

Fewer motorists are using the phones, since more drivers are using cell phones to reach a tow truck or 911, the panel told the commission last month. In 1996, more than 200,000 people called from the solar-powered phone boxes. Last year, half as many did, according to the agency. 

The transportation commission will survey the 1,100 miles of roadway where phones are placed to determine just which boxes should remain to allow drivers the most convenient access possible. 

An annual $1 surcharge on car registration fees funds the phones, as well as roving tow trucks that tug stranded drivers out of traffic to relieve congestion.