Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Thursday, May 13, 1999

‘Smartcards’ new
trend at pay phones

Question: I went to use a GTE pay phone next to Longs Ala Moana. I put in 35 cents, but the call did not go through. The message said the phone does not accept money, then said, "Do you want to lose weight?" Then the phone went "click, click" and I lost my 35 cents. I called the operator and got someone from the mainland, who said she was sorry, but couldn't do anything and hung up. I went to the next phone, dialed the same number and it went through. What's going on?

Answer: Welcome to the eve of the new millennium, where nothing is as simple as it used to be.

You were using one of the advanced "Millennium" pay phones, which allow you to use "Smartcards" or credit cards, as well as coins, said GTE Hawaiian Tel spokesman Keith Kamisugi.

Smartcards are debit cards and purchased in advance. However, you can still pay with coins at all pay phones, unless there is a problem, Kamisugi said.

The Millennium phones have display panels, with messages scrolling by. If there is a problem with the coin function, it will read "coin service is not available," Kamisugi said. Customers then must use a card to make a call.

The display also has advertising messages for a weight-loss program or golf magazine subscription, Kamisugi said. If you want more information, you hit a button near the bottom of the phone.

You should have been given information by the operator, so "we are looking into the matter," Kamisugi said. Next time, look for the toll-free number listed on all GTE pay phones for coin refunds.

About 3,000 of 7,500 GTE pay phones statewide are Millennium phones. "We're phasing them in depending on the need of a particular area," Kamisugi said.

The ads are "just another opportunity to utilize our phones for advertising. It's a business decision."


Q: I have arthritis in my legs, but I don't use a cane. If you use a cane, bus drivers will lower the steps for you, but if you don't, they won't. Can I ask the driver to lower the steps for me? I called the bus company, but waited 10 minutes and no one answered.

A: "We will always lower the lift upon request -- it doesn't matter if you have a cane," said Roger Morton, senior vice president of Oahu Transit Services, which operates the city's bus fleet.

About half of the fleet is equipped with the lifts, he said. The easiest way to identify those is to look for the wheelchair symbol on the front of the bus.

Drivers are trained to anticipate the need for the lifts whenever they approach a bus stop, Morton said. "We do lower upon inspection of need."

But that's not always appreciated.

"We went through the Committee on Accessible Transportation, who asked us not to lower the (lifts) unless on request," Morton said. "Some people are sensitive to drivers assuming they need the (lifts) lowered, so drivers have to be sensitive and not just assume that (people) need it. Some people consider it almost an insult."

Also, one problem with the lifts is that there have been "some falls and injuries," Morton said. "So, we're in the process of training drivers to be aware that that could happen and to physically suspend the boarding process, preferably by closing the door when someone wants the lift lowered. We'll leave it to driver's discretion."

Need help with problems? Call Kokua Line at 525-8686,
fax 525-6711, or write to P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
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