The historic "San Francisco Emergency Call Box" located atop a comparatively unimportant bridge.
They are ubiquitous on the highways around California, so reliable in their presence every couple of miles that they’re almost forgettable. In the age of cell phones they have become almost forgettable, relics of an earlier era when pay phones were on every street corner and cheap cell phones weren’t in everyone’s pockets. They are the emergency call boxes that line the state’s highway systems and even as they have arguably become obsolete you continue to fund them with your taxpayer dollars. In 1990, 170,511 calls were made from those bright-yellow emergency call boxes that line San Diego County highways. By 2010, that number had dropped to 11,625. But during those same two decades, the special tax revenue that funds them has built up a reserve of $12.8 million. So now, a Republican assemblyman from San Diego wants to slash the service and cut the fees that fund call boxes, which are mostly taken from a $1 surcharge on your car registration. As funds for the call boxes have grown they’ve been used for other services, like firefighting helicopters and quick response tow trucks, but not for their original intention, the call boxes. Do we still need to be funding the emergency call boxes on the side of every major highway in California? Is it worth keeping them around for the small percentage of motorists who don’t have cell phones?
David Alvarez, San Diego City councilman representing District 8. He is working with Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher on the legislation to reform and possibly phase out the call box program.
Iain Fairweather, transportation planning manager 3 with METRO, which overseas the Service Authority for Freeways and Expressways program in Los Angeles County