Enhancing Public Transit With Wi-Fi

A recent column found by way of Planetizen identifies many of the advantages of providing Wi-Fi Internet access to public transit passengers and provides several brief case studies of transit districts that have implemented wireless networks on their systems. One of the most commonly cited benefits was the ability to enhance the safety of passengers and operators by enabling streaming video from on-board surveillance cameras that can be accessed by dispatch. Many of the agencies mentioned in the column received Homeland Security grants to install their networks.

“Rail and bus companies are using Wi-Fi to entice more passengers to use their service,” said Esme Vos, an intellectual property lawyer based in Amsterdam and founder of MuniWireless.com.

In addition to enhancing the commuter experience, Vos says that Wi-Fi is helping transit operators improve safety and efficiency, by using widespread video surveillance and sophisticated maintenance and diagnostic tracking.

“Streaming surveillance video from wireless cameras on buses to public safety authorities has been very successful for bus operators,” she said.

Jim Baker agrees.

“While offering free Wi-Fi connectivity to passengers is a value-added service that is going to distinguish a public transit operator from its competition, that’s not the main selling point for the operators,” said Baker, CEO of UK-based Moovera Networks, whose company makes gateway devices that deliver broadband connectivity to public transport companies worldwide. “The primary driver is not Wi-Fi for passengers, but Internet connectivity for the vehicle.”

At present, Trimet is planning to offer Wi-Fi on WES. When does Wi-Fi become a priority for MAX and buses? No numbers were offered, but many of those interviewed for the column said they believed ridership increased as a result of offering Wi-Fi, but most of those were for commuter trains or BRT routes. I would suspect that Wi-Fi becomes more appealing to a passenger as the trip length increases. If that were the case – or even if I’m wrong about that – what routes should be at the top of the list to be fitted with wireless Internet access for passengers? Are there routes that you think should be targeted for Wi-Fi in an attempt to boost ridership? Or routes that could use the enhanced security?

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