Ask LH: What Does A Local Call Cost From An Australian Public Payphone?

Ask LH: What Does A Local Call Cost From An Australian Public Payphone?
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Hi Lifehacker, There are relatively few public phones these days, though there are some in prominent locations, like the ones at Flinders Street station in Melbourne. There is a long notice telling you to please insert coins and that no change will be given — but nowhere does it tell you how much to put in for a local call. This secret would be of great value to locals and tourists who need to make a call. Any insights? Thanks, Change For Good

Picture: Getty Images/Michael Dodge

Dear CFG,

In an era where there more mobile phones than citizens in Australia, payphones are indeed something of a rarity. They tend to fall into two categories: those provided by Telstra as part of its universal service obligation requirements (some of which are in very remote locations), and those set up by other companies (generally in higher-traffic sites such as shopping malls or stations). Telstra is maximising the value of its existing payphones by using them as wireless hotspots, but I still wouldn’t expect to see an increase in their numbers.

But if you do need one and you need to make a local call, what will you pay? Telstra’s customer terms specify how much will be charged for a local call: 50 cents. I’d be surprised if any commercial payphone provider charges less.

So if you do encounter a payphone without a clearly displayed minimum charge (itself arguably a violation of consumer law), 50 cents is likely to be the minimum — and that’s a certainty if it’s a Telstra-operated phone. If that doesn’t work, add a little more. (If any readers have used the payphones at Flinders Street and know the charges, please tell us in the comments.)

Calling to a mobile is a lot more expensive — Telstra’s charges are 50 cents per 35 seconds or part thereof. Either way, if you are planning to use a payphone, 50 cent pieces are probably the thing to stock up on. Some payphone models won’t accept smaller coins, though that should be indicated on the phone itself.


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  • I work for the company that is contracted by Telstra to fix payphones all around the country. There are approximately 18,200 Telstra payphones from the middle of the CBD to the middle of nowhere. Just an FYI 🙂

  • As soon as the customer lifts the handset, the minimum charge is displayed on the LCD on the Payphone, (that being currently 50c). It also displays the 20c tariff for an SMS.

    • Unless you’re a drug dealer with a system of coded communication, a la The Wire, I just can’t see why anyone would use payphones outside emergencies. Mobiles are cheaper, more convenient, don’t have to memorise numbers, etc.

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