By Michael P. Neufeld
San Bernardino, CA – Motorists in the mountain communities are very familiar with the bright yellow call boxes on aluminum posts with a royal blue identifying sign that dot state highways and can be utilized to call for assistance.
The 1,243 call boxes in San Bernardino County will soon drop to 1,021 when SBCTA — the Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies (SAFE) removes 222 of the boxes due to increased operating costs and decreased usage due to cell phones and other communication devices.
San Bernardino County is among the largest call box providers in the United States and since 1990 the boxes have assisted 1.6 million motorists. . .but each year that number of users has been on a decline.
CALL BOX REMOVAL
The San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA) made the decision and the call boxes have already been wrapped in plastic bags and taken offline.
ROTWNEWS.com has not seen any covered boxes on mountain highways but local residents have reported seeing them on several freeways throughout the county.
However, SBCTA officials admit that there are places in the mountain communities where cell phones can’t operate and that boxes will be retained in remote locations to assist motorists who need to report a flat tire, vehicles that are experiencing mechanical failure or to report an accident.
CALL BOX UPDATES
SBCTA spokesperson Tim Watkins told ROTWNEWS.com that the recent update of the call box system from 2G to 3G provided the agency with an opportunity to evaluate the current inventory and the decision was made to reduce the number of call boxes based on (1) signal consistency, (2) urban development near the call box, and (3) access to other aid opportunities.
Watkins explained the reduction of call boxes will result in annual cost savings opf about $90,000.
“The SBCTA remains committed to providing commuters and travelers to and through our county with the type of assistance made available through this program,” Watkins stressed.
STATEWIDE CALL BOXES
Call box programs can be found in 29 of California’s 58 counties and there are currently about 15,000 call boxes in the system that was launched on November 1, 1962 in Los Angeles along a 10-mile stretch of the San Bernardino, Hollywood, Santa Ana and Harbor Freeways.
Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and SAFE agencies (like SANBAG) jointly operate the program.
STANDARD CALL BOX EQUIPMENT
Each call box in San Bernardino County is a battery-powered, solar-charged roadside cellular phone.
All call boxes are Teletype (TYY) equipped and are usually placed in pairs across from each other roughly one to two miles apart, depending on availability of a consistent cellular signal.
They also offer Americans with Disabilities (ADA) access.
SANBAG funds the operational costs for the call boxes through a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) $1 vehicle registration fee from vehicles registered in San Bernardino County.