Keeping pay telephones in working order on the streets of New York City is a job suitable for Superman. New York Telephone Co. owns 8,100 sidewalk pay phones within city limits, and there were 90,000 reports of phones out of commission last year. The phone company says about three-quarters of the outages were from vandalism--usually from thieves breaking into the coin boxes.
Now, New York Tel and the city government hope to restore law and order to Metropolis with a test of pay phones from a Swiss company, Landis & Gyr, that uses cards instead of coins. The cards will be sold at newsstands for $4.75 and will be good for $5 worth of calls, giving budget-minded callers an incentive to try them. Phone cards are already popular in parts of Europe and Japan, where breaking into coin boxes is not quite such a problem. But it might take a while for these coinless phones become commonplace in the Big Apple. New York Telephone plans to install only 60 to 80 of these new phones in its initial test, so New Yorkers might still have to scramble to find a working phone booth.