Cashier Pat McKeon said he's never surprised to see people make call after call on the pay telephones in front of the Safeway store in Orange.
"We've had people sit out there in a chair and make calls all day," McKeon said, referring to the bank of five phones where a call costs only 10 cents.
But beginning today, local calls made on Southern California's last remaining 10-cent pay telephones will cost 20 cents, a change that will affect about 335 telephones in Orange and Anaheim Hills, a Pacific Bell spokesman said.
While that may mean scrounging around for another dime before making local calls, Brad Eickhoff, another cashier at the store at 2684 N. Tustin Ave., said the 10-cent calls were nice while they lasted.
"It was kind of neat," Eickhoff said. "You felt you were getting away with something."
And, in fact, Eickhoff and others who were using the phones may have been "getting away with something." Of the 90,000 pay telephones in the Southern California region, the 335 telephones in Orange and Anaheim Hills are the last to be converted to 20 cents, said John Adair, region manager of public communications at Pacific Bell.
Those phones were also the last in the region requiring money for emergency services. The rate increase now means callers will be getting an additional service: They will be able to make emergency calls "without having any money in their pockets," Pacific Bell spokesman Michael Runzler said.
The cost of local calls at most pay telephones in the region increased in July, 1984, just after a statewide rate increase was approved by the Public Utilities Commission, Runzler said. The increase, he said, was approved under the condition that all telephones be modified to include free emergency assistance for police and fire, as well as operator information, telephone repair and operator assistance.
Safeway cashier Arlene Lay said that not having free emergency assistance was an "inconvenience" to callers. "A lot of times during an emergency people don't have the money to call . . . and they don't know what number to call. This way, it will be advertised all over, what number to call," she said.
The central office in Orange, the county's final holdout, was not equipped for the system change, which required the purchase of a $7.7-million electronic switching system to route calls to their destination, Runzler said.
With the new system, residential and business subscribers in the Orange area can obtain additional services, including speed-calling, three-way calls and call-waiting services.
Runzler said he could not estimate how much revenue may have been lost by not converting these phones earlier, "but we do know that revenues will increase. The amount of increase, however, will depend on the usage."
By today, Runzler said, 90% of the pay telephones in the two cities will require 20 cents for local calls, with the remaining telephones to be converted by Monday.
He said this change marks the first time in 32 years that the price of local calls has increased. But he added: "The 20 cents is the standard for pay phones now. But we are still one of the lower rates in the nation."