The battle between buses and trains to entice passengers with WiFi is heating up, with a string of announcements by bus and luxury coach operators in the UK, the US and Europe.
Mass transit connectivity was a topic of several conference sessions at the annual International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) last month in Las Vegas. It was originally a two-way radio conference with its roots in public safety. Now IWCE addresses community networking, M2M, Wi-Fi, and issues such as narrowbanding and 700MHz interoperability, with speakers from transit agencies, such as Portland’s TriMet and Santa Clara’s VTA.
The Joint Council on Transit Wireless Communications believes that providing wireless broadband connectivity to their passengers is the way to improve ridership.
- Arriva Trains in Denmark use small banner ads on the landing page of its Wi-Fi on trains service. It makes money.
- SJ Trains in Sweden lure passengers into purchasing a film or TV program. An onboard media server delivers the movie via 1Gbps fibre backbone that travels throughout the train, delivering content to passengers via two 100Mbps Wi-Fi access points in each car.
- Amtrak offers free WiFi on some of its trains. I tried it last week and made a short Skype video call to test it out. It worked (sluggishly). Fiber was buried all along the route.
“Connectivity is part of making transit more appealing and getting people out of their cars and onto trains and buses,” said Jim Baker, founder and CEO of Xentrans, a San Francisco–based consultancy that specializes in communications for mass-transit agencies. Caltrans is installing fiber-optic cables in the median of Interstate 5 to install more closed-circuit television cameras, message signs and traffic monitoring stations.
TriMet launched an online performance dashboard that tracks ridership, cost per ride, on-time performance, revenues, and collisions. “It provides the needed transparency,” general manager Neil McFarlane said about the dashboard.
City-wide, regional, and state-wide transportation agencies are in the driver’s seat. They have the rights of way, the fiber plant, and the need for a broadband regional network. It’s another reason to auction the 700 MHz “D block” for public/private use.
The bottom line? Mass transit connectivity makes money.
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