Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Downtown Pay Phones Facing Final Hang-Ups; They're Seen as a Nuisance or Vital for Those without Cells

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Downtown Pay Phones Facing Final Hang-Ups; They're Seen as a Nuisance or Vital for Those without Cells

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID BAUERLEIN

A dozen pay phone boxes along downtown Jacksonville streets could face permanent hang-ups because city officials view them as gathering spots for loiterers and panhandlers.

The Jacksonville Economic Development Commission on Thursday will consider legislation letting the city order the removal of pay phones on sidewalks and in parks downtown. Pay phones would still be permitted on private property and in government buildings.

Police say it's tough to enforce anti-nuisance laws near pay phones because people say they are waiting to place or receive phone calls.

"This is a crime reduction effort of the Sheriff's Office," said Lt. Mike Bruno.

Downtown Vision Executive Director Terry Lorince said the owners of pay phones don't seem to take care of the phone boxes, which she said are unsightly.

But customers said removing phones would be going too far.

Jacksonville resident Danae McHugh, who used a pay phone Tuesday at Hemming Plaza after a cell phone ran out of minutes, said pay phone boxes are eyesores and she'd support regulations making them more attractive.

"That doesn't mean we don't need them," she said. "For me, it's an important resource."

The city has identified 12 pay phones owners would have to remove if the legislation is approved by City Council. The city says the phones were installed without getting the necessary permits and violate existing codes. Two of the pay phones are at Hemming Plaza.

Nationwide, the number of pay phones has fallen sharply this decade as cell phones became more popular. There were 2 million pay phones in 2000, but that has dropped to around 800,000, according to the American Public Communications Council, a trade organization representing pay phone business.

Still, many people don't have cell phones, said Jacksonville resident Daniel Dennis, 30, who uses a pay phone at Hemming Plaza. …

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