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NYC's Phone Booths To Die; Could Sites Charge Electric Cars Instead?

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2013 Nissan Leaf electric car tested as taxi in New York City, April 2013

2013 Nissan Leaf electric car tested as taxi in New York City, April 2013

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Aside from movie characters and intoxicated individuals looking for somewhere to relieve themselves, nobody really uses public pay telephones any more.

New York City has around 8,000 active payphone kiosks, which is a lot of real estate going to waste. So why not, as The New York Times writes, put them to use as public electric car charging points instead?

The logic is sound--pay phone booths are existing infrastructure in public space, under-used, with a ready electric power supplying running to them.

Even more pertinently, the franchise contracts the city handed out for the operation of these phones expires in October 2014--and the city is seeking ways of repurposing the infrastructure in an age where everyone has their own phone safely tucked away in a pocket or purse.

The city launched a competition to find ways of converting the booths into something more useful. Among the interactive entertainment portals, wi-fi hot spots, bike parking and even "quiet booths" for using cellphones, were the electric car chargers--an idea that apparently has been "explored for years".

BMW suggested something similar at the New York launch of the 2014 BMW i3 electric car. Up to 3,000 public phones could be converted, said BMW's Peter Schwarzenbauer, with two or three parking spaces in front of each.

Due to the unique ways in which certain aspects of New York are managed, it's easier said than done.

Mark Johnston, president of Van Wagner Communications--an outdoor advertising company that manages the advertising space on more than 3,700 NYC phone kiosks--notes that different agencies are responsible for the public sidewalk and the parking spaces that would be involved.

It would involve all manner of insurance and parking time questions, and generally wrap reams of red tape around such a project. Others worry that it encourages more car use--however clean--in an already-crowded city.

The city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications is keen though, and believes the kiosks have enough power running through them to make charging conversions viable.

It could be many years before such a project is underway, so you shouldn't be eyeing-up payphone parking spaces just yet--but it's a compelling alternative to digging up existing sidewalks for charging posts.

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