About 276 roadside call boxes were phased out of service and removed from Oahu's freeways and from state highways over the past six months due to dwindling usage rates and rising costs, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Between 2001 and 2011, call box usage rates dropped by 86 percent as personal cell phones became increasingly commonplace.
In 2011, a total of 361 assistance calls were made from motorists, down from 2,634 in 2001. Cellular service and call box maintenance in this same year cost $314,000, creating a price tag of $870 per call, a figure that will likely continue to rise as call frequency declines.
Several other issues are driving costs even higher, making the program less cost-effective over time.
Among these, cellular service charges increased from approximately $3,000 per month to $13,000 to $15,000 per month. Forty call boxes will also need replacement to meet current cellular hardware standards at a cost of $1,700 each. This is in addition to replacement costs for five to eight call boxes that are damaged each year by vehicle collisions.
Long-term maintenance is also an issue as only one local contractor is an authorized representative able to perform repairs on the call box models used.
All funding for call boxes comes from state Highway Special Funds which also pay for such necessities as pavement resurfacing, pothole repairs, street lighting, signage, landscaping, tree-trimming, graffiti removal and other highway maintenance.
To help stranded motorists, the Freeway Service Patrol will continue to provide free assistance on the H-1 and H-201 Freeways from University Ave. to Kunia Rd. and on the H-2 to Ka Uka Blvd., covering 23 miles, on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily, excluding holidays.
Motorists are encouraged to keep their vehicles maintained to reduce breakdowns and to have FSP's phone number, 841-HELP (4357), programmed in their cell phones or in their vehicles in case of breakdowns. Future expansions of the patrol area is also planned as funding becomes available.