Publifon payphone: Last Swisscom public phone moves to the Museum in Berne


Pierre-Antoine Favez, Head of Hospitality and Payphone Services at Swisscom, spoke about the very special moment when he saw the phone box loaded on the transporter ready to set off: “It’s nice to be able to say goodbye to the last of its kind and find it a fitting home in the Museum of Communication.”

Favez, who hails from Freiburg, took over his role in 2010. “By that time, we were already a long way from the heady days of 1990, when we had nearly 60,000 Publifon payphones in operation.” He explains one beneficial side-effect: “The cost of rectifying acts of vandalism has also shrunk to a fraction of what it once was – just CHF 50,000 or so.”

Over the last couple of years, Swisscom has been busy decommissioning the last 3,000-odd Publifon payphones. Around 650 have been given a new lease of life, with uses as diverse as vending machines for drinks or snacks, locations for defibrillators, mini-libraries or bars.

A 2018 competition saw a panel and members of the general public select the most imaginative ideas, with their originators then given the phone box free of charge. Now the time has come: representing Swisscom, Pierre-Antoine Favez has presented the last Publifon payphone to the Museum of Communication.

Juri Jaquemet, curator at the Museum of Communication in Berne, was delighted to receive the gift. “For the Museum of Communication, the last public phone box is like an ‘index fossil’ for landline telephony. It bears witness to a time when telecommunication was not yet mobile.” This makes it a perfect fit for the collection, whose purpose is to document from a national perspective the transformation in communication – the history of media and how it relates to society. As Jaquemet emphasises, “The focus of our interest is not simply on technological artefacts, but on the cultural practices associated with them.”

The phone box from Baden will initially be taken to the depot in Mamishaus, where it will be cleaned, photographed and logged in the collection’s database. It will then be stored there in optimum conditions for posterity.

But Juri Jaquemet promises: “It will definitely be on display in an exhibition in future. This will ensure that even people born in 2019 will have a clear idea of what a ‘phone box’ actually looked like.”

Some 150 round glass cabins remain in place

Only Swisscom’s phone boxes have been decommissioned. Some 150 glass APG|SGA “Telecab 2000” cabins are still in place. Now operated by APG|SGA, these cabins allow free calls to Swiss landline and mobile networks (but not chargeable business numbers).

A portion of the maintenance, cleaning and call costs are co-financed through posters. APG|SGA has managed advertising space on public phone boxes since 1930. The “Telecab 2000” cabins were conceived by APG|SGA in 1995 in close cooperation with Swisscom and the Institut für ganzheitliche Gestaltung (Institute for Integrated Design) as a replacement for public emergency telephones.

They were designed to have a useful life of 35 years. The transparent cylinder with its sonorous spatial concept is still relevant from an urban development perspective, has won numerous design awards (e.g. DuPont Benedictus Award, Design Prize Switzerland) and will be included in the Museum of Communication’s collection.

What should you do if you still have a prepaid Taxcard?

Swisscom will redeem any still valid Taxcards up to the end of February 2020. They must be returned to Swisscom with a completed form. You can print this form out from the Internet or order it by phone on 0848 881 180, in which case it will be sent out to you by post.

Swisscom Shop employees can help you complete the form, but they cannot redeem the card because the shops do not have the technology needed to check the balance.

The last word goes to the last Publifon payphone, before it embarks on its final journey.