Students might resent an expense that adds up to as much as $180 a year, but even so, leaving a phone at one of the trucks in the morning and then picking it up at the end of the day has become as routine for city teenagers as getting dressed and riding the morning-rush subway.
“Sometimes it's a hassle because not everyone can afford it,” said Kelice Charles, a freshman at Gramercy Arts High School in Manhattan.
Cell phones and other devices, such as iPods and iPads, are banned in all New York City public schools, but the rule is widely ignored except in the 88 buildings that have metal detectors.
Schools where violence is considered a risk have metal detectors to spot weapons, but they also spot phones.
The trucks that collect the cell phones have their own safety issues — one was held up in the Bronx in June, and some 200 students lost their phones.
A converted disability-access van that's parked a block away from one school is painted bright blue and labeled “Pure Loyalty Electronic Device Storage.” The owner, Vernon Alcoser, 40, operates trucks in three of the city's five boroughs.
“Next, next, have the phone off, have the money out,” an employee yelled as the teens texted and listened to music until the last possible second. At the truck window, each student exchanged a phone and a dollar for a numbered yellow ticket.
“My whole four years I've been putting my phone in this truck, and it's been great,” said Melquan Thompson, a senior. “Only a dollar. It's not bad.”
The cell-phone trucks appear to be unique to New York City.
“That is hilarious,” said Debora Carrera, a high school principal in Philadelphia who had never heard of a phone storage truck.
At Ms. Carrera's school, students operate a cell-phone storage room where phones can be dropped off in the morning at no charge and picked up after school.
For many teens, it would be unthinkable to leave the devices at home all day, Ms. Carrera said. “Their phone is like a family member,” she said. “It's like a pet. They love it.”
For parents, the phone may be the only way of communicating with a teen who commutes two hours to school and gets home at 8 p.m., after sports practice.
“In this day and age, it's ridiculous that the Department of Education doesn't allow us to store them on site,” said Robin Klueber, the PTA president at Frank McCourt High School in Manhattan. She would like the city's education department to let the PTA run a storage room instead.