HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With the popularity of cell phones these days, emergency call boxes along Oahu's roadways are becoming obsolete. During the last six months, the Hawaii Department of Transportation removed approximately 276 roadside phones along freeways and highways.
"Now with the huge increase of cell phones, they're not being used nearly as much and we've had a huge decrease in the usage. At the same time. the cost has been increasing," explained DOT spokesperson Caroline Sluyter.
Assistance calls dropped from 2,634 in 2001 to 361 in 2011, according to Sluyter. Meanwhile, cellular service charges increased from $3,000 per month to up to $15,00 per month. At least 45 call boxes also needed to be replaced due to hardware upgrades or damage from vehicles. Another challenge the state faced is that only one local contractor is authorized to perform repairs on the models used.
"Basically in 2011, it's costing about $314,000 a year for us for cell phone service and maintenance, which is making each call about $870," Sluyter said.
The money comes from the state's Highway Special Fund which also pays for other maintenance such as pavement resurfacing, pothole repairs and graffiti removal. Other states are also scaling back on call box services.
"The trend has been to remove call boxes or to space them further apart, and that's been a trend for quite a long time - 10 to 12 years - on the mainland," said AAA Hawaii representative Elaine Beno.
"I guess they could do that cause everybody use cell phones now, and fix most of the potholes that people been grumbling about," said Makaha resident Scotty Afong.
But critics point out that not everyone has a cell phone. Batteries could also die or drivers may become stranded in a dead zone with no cell phone service.
"Yeah, I got my cell phone and stuff like that, but still yet. If anything, shucks, I would feel more comfortable if there was some kind of other way you know of reaching somebody," said Kaimana Beauford of Makaha.
The DOT is keeping 40 call boxes inside the H-3 tunnels. They're directly-wired to the tunnel operations center and are maintained by tunnel personnel. A call box maintained by the Department of Land and Natural Resources is also still in place at Yokohama Bay.
As for the other spots, the state hopes the Freeway Service Patrol will help fill some of the gaps by providing free assistance covering 23 miles on the H-1 and H-201 Freeways from University Avenue to Kunia Road, and on the H-2 to Ka Uka Boulevard, on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., excluding holidays. The FSP's phone number is 841-HELP (4357). Drivers are encouraged to keep their vehicles maintained to prevent breakdowns and to keep their cell phones charged.