What is pay station in the U.S.?

If you look it up, say, on ODO, it is defined as an AmEng equivalent of pay phone.

pay station: n. US term for pay phone ODO

Now, if you search Google Images for pictures of respectively a pay phone and a pay station, this is what you get:

pay phone

pay station

And so, my question is:

"If" pay station is an older term for pay phone in the U.S., when did the meaning shift from pay phone to what I'd broadly call, "automated parking meter" actually occur, and, most of all, why is that newer or alternate sense of pay station apparently not supported by any authoritative dictionaries available online?

  • 8
    I’ve never heard them called pay stations in the U. S. - ever. Sometimes I wonder where these dictionaries get their info.
    – Jim
    Jan 11, 2016 at 20:22
  • 2
    I've certainly heard them called "pay stations" in the US. (And I've almost always seen "pay phone", not "payphone".) Of course one rarely hears/reads either term anymore.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 11, 2016 at 20:39
  • 2
    @Jim - Apparently, old people.
    – Mazura
    Jan 11, 2016 at 20:51
  • 3
    The only sense I (mid-west region U.S.) have ever heard pay station is at certain parking garages, you need to pay and get your ticket validated at an automated kiosk in the lobby, before you return to your car. These garages have no "toll booth" at the exits- you have to insert your validated ticket. This is what is shown in some of your images.
    – cobaltduck
    Jan 11, 2016 at 21:17
  • 3
    I'm old-ish and from the US and never heard pay phones referred to as pay stations. Parking lot pay stations are in use currently if that's any help. Jan 11, 2016 at 21:18

1 Answer 1


It appears that pay station was used to refer to telephony in the early 20th century. From "Telephony, volume 11" (1906):

  • NEW TELEPHONE RECORDING PAY STATION. The subject of pay stations is one of great interest and concern, as it is one of the most important devices in the equipment of telephone systems.

From: Webster's New World Telecom Dictionary - Pagina 365

  • A pay telephone is no longer a common sight in North America and many developed regions of the world as the low cost and wide availability of cellular phones have made pay phones unprofitable. Synonymous with payphone is pay station.

AmE Ngram shows that the popularity of "payphone" over "pay station" started and increased from the late 60's.

Payphone (n.):

  • also pay-phone, 1906, from pay (v.) + phone (n.). (Etymonline)
  • 2
    This suggests 'phone' was always more popular. 'Station' seems to have been a term used largely by the phone companies. Jan 11, 2016 at 20:46
  • If you Ngram "pay phone" rather than "pay phones" the difference is even more dramatic.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 11, 2016 at 22:22
  • I suspect that StoneyB's suggestion is correct -- the phone companies used (and may still use) "pay station", while most customers used (but no longer use) "pay phone".
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 11, 2016 at 22:23
  • @HotLicks - pay station is probably a more 'technical' term. The Webster Telecom Dictionary just says they are synonyms.
    – user66974
    Jan 11, 2016 at 22:26
  • 1
    As a 66-year-old native Californian with a friend who was in the telecommunications industry for more than 40 years before her retirement, this is the first and only time I have ever heard of a "pay station" with regards to telephony. Pay phone? Of course. Pay station? Never. Jan 11, 2016 at 22:43

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