Community Pays to Install its Own Pay Phone

Liane Hansen speaks with Elena Tyrrell, postmistress of Canyon, Calif., who organized her town in the Oakland Hills area near San Francisco to buy a pay phone for the community after AT&T removed its phone.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The tiny community of Canyon, California is nestled in the Oakland Hills. For good many years, you could stand on the front porch of the post office and make a call on Canyon's only payphone. Then last year, AT&T decided to remove it. It seems the payphone wasn't paying its way. However, the community's postmistress fought the good fight and we hear that once again there is a payphone in Canyon, California. And we're going to confirm that report right here and now.

(Soundbite of phone ring)

Ms. ELENA TYRRELL (Postmistress, Canyon, California); Canyon community payphone.

HANSEN: Hey, is this Elena Tyrrell?

Ms. TYRRELL: Yes, it's me.

HANSEN: How are you?

Ms. TYRRELL: I'm good. How are you?

HANSEN: I'm very well. I love the way that you answer the phone - Canyon community payphone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: So why is it so important that Canyon, California have a payphone?

Ms. TYRRELL: Well, we are in a deep Canyon where cell phones don't work most of the time. And actually, to have a payphone, it's good for kinds of safety reasons.

HANSEN: Uh-hmm.

Ms. TYRRELL: To fires, accidents or just giving directions.

HANSEN: Yeah. Yeah. Well, imagine, nestled where you are, you people could get lost pretty easily.

Ms. TYRRELL: Yeah, they do.

HANSEN: Well, you're the postmistress. You know your way around. Is that how you ended up leading the fight to get the payphone back?

Ms. TYRRELL: Yeah, because I was here one day and one of my (uninteligible0 customers came in and said, Elena, somebody's - AT&T is out there with a (unintelligible). They're taking out the phone. And I was like, what? And I came out and asked the guy and he said it wasn't making enough money, that they need to have it removed. And anyway, they gave us a three-month stay, where I tried calling all the different agencies involved, including the local police department and the neighboring city, the sheriff's department, fire department, and the safety issue out here. And they all respond to the AT&T and said, yes, we are agreeing with Elena that, you know, we need this phone here. And they said, sorry, we don't make accommodations for things like that and we're just taking it out. And they gave us option, either not having one or buying our own. So we now have to learn this payphone business.

HANSEN: I guess you are. I'm going to have someone join our conversation. This is, you know, Canyon resident Jonathan Goodwin(ph).

Ms. TYRRELL: Oh, yeah. Okay.

HANSEN: All right. He's on the other line. He did a lot of legwork trying to bring this phone back.

Ms. TYRRELL: Yes, he did.

HANSEN: Mr. Goodwin, can you hear me?

Mr. JONATHAN GOODWIN (Resident, Canyon, California): Yes, I can.

HANSEN: So Jonathan, I mean, I know Elena's on the phone. But why aren't you using the payphone after all the work you did to bring it back to the Canyon?

Mr. GOODWIN: Well, at the moment, I'm working.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOODWIN: So I'm not in liberty to be there.

HANSEN: What do you do?

Mr. GOODWIN: I repair clocks. And right now, I'm delivering one a few cities over - a few towns over.

HANSEN: Okay. Well, all right, we'll forgive you for not using the payphone that you worked so hard to get to your community. But I want…

Mr. GOODWIN: I do it manually so that other people could use it.

HANSEN: There you go. But tell us, you did some - there's an interesting part to the story. You went to the California Public Utilities Commission earlier this year, and you tried to get money to replace the phone that AT&T took away. What did the commission tell you?

Mr. GOODWIN: Well, because of the proliferation of cell phone, it's very hard to find a payphone. They're just disappearing all over the place. And California saw that coming and created legislation to pay for what they called public policy payphones.

They had close to a million dollars and none of it was spent on any of the payphone, but they were spending a lot of money investigating it. So they just stopped taking applications. And so by the time we came along with the first legitimate need they ever heard of, they had no mechanism for paying out the money. So we were stuck.

HANSEN: So, in the meantime, I mean, how did you have to pay for this new phone.

Mr. GOODWIN: The phone itself, we got a good deal from a local provider. We had to put up $700 for the phone and then another hundred and some to AT&T. Let's go back to AT&T to get the dial tone. So it came to approximately $900.

HANSEN: Jonathan, I understand you had a celebration in your community, the Canyon Payphone Jubilee?

Mr. GOODWIN: Yeah.

HANSEN: What did you do there, Jonathan?

Mr. GOODWIN: Well, I started out playing fiddle tones sort of to get things going. Then our county supervisor gave a little talk and get on it. We ate good food and hang around until we left.

HANSEN: Jonathan Goodwin was a key player in the fight to get a new payphone to Canyon, California. He's also a pretty good fiddle player. Thanks for your time, Jonathan?

Mr. GOODWIN: Oh, it's nice talking with you.

HANSEN: and Elena Tyrrell is the postmistress in Canyon, California. And she joined us the payphone that she helped put back in front of the post office.

Elena, thank you so much.

Ms. TYRRELL: Thank you, Liane.

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