Virtually every New Yorker over the age of 12 has a cellphone, and the call boxes are no longer a part of the public consciousness. It would not even occur to most people to seek one out in case of an emergency. The 15,000 boxes cost taxpayers more than $6 million a year, and 85% of calls from them are false alarms.
But we cannot rely on common sense to prevail. Ripping out the call boxes and leaving nothing in their place would risk the same hysterical reaction that defeated the plan in 1996 and again in 2011, when a deaf-rights group stopped the Bloomberg administration's attempt. The city would have to offer New Yorkers something better in their place.
Fortunately, it can. The de Blasio administration is in the process of replacing its virtually obsolete pay phones with 7,500 free Wi-Fi hot spots. Anyone will be able to use the new kiosks, called Links, to surf the Web on a provided tablet or their own smartphones, make free domestic phone calls, charge their devices and—yes—call 911. Not only will the project cost taxpayers nothing, but thanks to the advertising space that the city's private partner will sell, the city will reap more than $500 million over 12 years.