Normally, we’re fans of saving taxpayers’ money. We regularly have encouraged lawmakers from the state to federal level to get creative at ratcheting down spending.
But a state Senate Transportation Committee proposal unveiled Tuesday misses the mark.
In an effort to save $200,000 per year, the committee said it would review a House bill that would allow the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to eliminate those emergency call boxes seen on the side of the highway.
The boxes – over 1,000 spread from Scranton to Philadelphia to Pittsburgh – give drivers the option of alerting emergency responders to four types of incidents: service (such as running out of gas), police, medical or accident. You press a button corresponding to the incident you’re reporting, a tone and light will indicate that emergency responders have received your message, and then you can return to your vehicle and wait for help.
With the proliferation of cellphones, the call boxes are infrequently used, according to The Associated Press. The AP reported that the number of calls dropped a stunning 88 percent over the past 12 years. Calls fell from 18,571 in 2000 to 1,717 in 2012, the most recent number for which data is available. Undoubtedly, the number of calls has dropped further since then.
And that’s fine. In a perfect world, no driver would ever need to pull over on the Turnpike and walk to one of these call boxes.
Those call boxes still serve a purpose, though. Not everybody has a cellphone. Cellphone batteries can die. Cellphones can malfunction. Cellphone networks can go down. (Verizon Wireless had a brief network outage in our area over the summer, for example.)
In an emergency situation, is it not better to have two ways to communicate with emergency responders than one?
For the amount of peace-of-mind protection these call boxes afford us, their cost of less than 2 cents per Pennsylvanian per year seems like a small price to pay.
We’d encourage the Senate Transportation Committee to reject the House’s proposal and let this bill die. Given the minimal cost involved with maintaining the call-box network, there’s no reason to eliminate this service.