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April 11, 2008

More cities offer Wi-Fi on buses

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 CINCINNATI — Tim Harrington sits aboard the express bus from Mason, Ohio, to Cincinnati, his computer propped in his lap. He logs on, picks through his e-mail and begins his workday during the 30-to-40-minute rush-hour trip.

His commuter bus and buses in more than 20 other cities now offer wireless Internet, according to an informal survey by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

The service surfaced about four years ago. Mountain Metropolitan Transit in Colorado Springs first offered WiFi on buses in 2004, the APTA says. It is now available across the USA in cities such as San Francisco, Reno, Austin and Seattle.

Not everyone’s on board. A spokesman for the Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said there are no plans to initiate wireless service.

Wireless service is also on some commuter trains. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority added it to its 45-mile rail line between Worchester and Boston in January. Deputy Chief of Staff Kris Erickson said it’s “probably the most well-received enhancement that we’ve ever done.”
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New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced an agreement last September to wire the city’s 277 subway stations in the next six years. The first should be wired in two years.

The Utah Transit Authority began offering Internet service on 60 of its buses in January. In February, San Francisco unveiled the “Connected Bus.” Cincinnati started its three-month wireless pilot program in March on a single route.

APTA President William Miller predicts wireless Internet will become a service riders expect. “When I was a kid, you never thought of having an air-conditioned bus,” he said.

Outfitting a bus with wireless capability costs about $1,000 to $2,000, transportation officials said.

In Cincinnati, Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s Metro bus system, working with Dayton, Ohio-based HarborLink, paid $1,500 per bus for installation and nothing for the monthly service. In King County, Wash., wiring and installation on each bus cost $1,000, said Mike Berman of the county Department of Transportation’s Metro Transit Division.

The Utah Transit Authority reports the number of unique wireless users on its buses increased from about 500 in January’s start-up to 2,500 by the end of March.

David Parra, a computer engineer, uses the service on his 55-minute daily commute to and from Salt Lake City.

“Having the WiFi has made a huge difference for me,” he said.


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