Annoying cell phone conversations coming soon to a platform near you

By · Published in 2007

Fade in on a nearly-empty subway station. It’s 2:30 a.m., and you’re stuck at the 2nd Ave. subway stop waiting for an F train that never shows up. Mostly drunk and dead tired, you just want to sit there quietly until the train rolls up to shuttle you back to Brooklyn.

But the air is pierced by an all-too-familiar sound. It’s that blasted Nokia ringtone you’ve come to know and despise. As the loud, obnoxious cell phone user proceeds to shout the amazing details of how a friend just puked all over the bathroom at d.b.a, you can’t help but think about how you wish the MTA had simply kept the subways cell-phone free.

Now, I know what you, reading this on Sept. 20, 2007, are thinking: What a far-fetched scene. The MTA hasn’t been able to get its act together in well over two years of talking about subway cell service. What makes me think they can do it now?

Well, they’ve signed, sealed and delivered the contract with Transit Wireless to wire all 277 underground stations for cell and wi-fi service. Not only with everyone talk on their cell phones, but the cacophonous sounds of Instant Messenger will fill the subway tunnels too. Joy!

William Neuman has the details:

All 277 underground stations in the subway system are to be wired for cellphone use, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced yesterday. But riders may have to talk fast, because the subway tunnels will not be wired, out of consideration for riders who do not want to be stuck in a subway car full of chattering cellphone users.

The company that won the right to wire the stations, Transit Wireless, will pay New York City Transit a minimum of $46.8 million over 10 years, the agency said. The company will also pay the full cost of building the wireless network in the underground stations, estimated at $150 million to $200 million.

In the article, Peter Kalikow, who has been the outgoing MTA chair for months now, says he didn’t want to hear cell phone conversations on the trains. Imagine people trying to shout into their phones over the din of a subway tunnel. The platforms will be bad enough, thank you very much.

The first stations to be wired within two years are in the bastion of plugged-in-ness that is the Chelsea/Silicon Alley area in New York. As The Times reports, the pilot program encompasses 23rd Street and 14th Street on the Eighth Avenue line (A/C/E), 14th Street on the Seventh Avenue line (1/2/3), 14th Street on the Sixth Avenue line (F/V), and Eighth Avenue and Sixth Avenue on the L line. Just wait for all of the Google drones to ramble away on their cell phones after work.

If these six stations are successfully wired within two years, Transit Wireless has four years to complete the project. So start that count down. The days of waiting for the subway in a peaceful silence are numbered.

While this contract is a boon for emergency preparedness, an area in which Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s report on the Aug. 8 flood found the Agency to be lacking, I can’t say I’m looking forward to an era of cell phone conversations in the subway. Call me curmudgeonly but it’s bad enough hearing music blaring out of people’s iPods. What are we going to do when we’re hearing intimate details of last night’s drunken sexcapes through an iPhone instead?

As Jossip put it, the city that never shuts up now has one more place to yap away.

Photo courtesy of Jupiter Images.

22 Responses to “Annoying cell phone conversations coming soon to a platform near you”

  1. Julie says:

    Forget 2:30am, talk about 7:30am when I am still bleary-eyed and would rather be back in my bed. Currently the platform and train are blessedly quiet, and I want them to stay that way.

  2. Marsha says:

    This will put a whole new spin on the Budweiser commercial saluting the obnoxious cell phone user.

  3. fhdogs says:

    The best part will be people trying to scream into their phones as trains enter and pass through the station.

  4. iread says:

    Those of us who live in the outer boroughs where the subways go above ground are already living this nightmare. The minute the 2 train hits the Jackson Avenue stop in the Bronx every person in the car whips out their cellphone, or better yet, their walkie talkies, and starts yapping away. There is nothing like listening to the woman on your right recounting her latest sexual conquest, while the guy on your left yells at his mother for being too controlling.

    Up until now the tunnels of Manhattan have been my reprieve from this cacophony. It’s down right tragic that the MTA is going to wire the tunnels, especially when that money could be spent on track and signal maintainance or improving train and station public address systems.

  5. fhdogs says:


    I feel your pain as I used to take the 7 from times square to Main St.

    Fortunately the tunnels will not be wired. Only the platforms. I don’t think it’s very likely the signals will travel far enough to stay on a call will riding.

    Also the MTA is not paying to do this work. Transit Wireless (another company) is paying the MTA to do the work. Maybe the MTA can use that money (nearly $50 million) to fix the infrastructure.

    Regardless I still don’t want cell phones on the platforms.

  6. Scott says:

    Relax — you will continue to enjoy your peace and quiet on the subway platforms (does that make any sense?)

    The NYTimes article states that “A consortium of the major cellphone providers, including Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, offered a total payment over 10 years of just $40, according to a summary of the deal that will be provided to the authority’s board members. (A transit official said the figure was not a typo.) ”

    Meanwhile, amNew York tells us that Transit Wireless “must strike a deal with a carrier, which has not been selected”.

    So we know how much two representative carriers think it is worth spending to cover only the stations. We also know that Transit Wireless will have to pay the MTA $46 million, plus pay for the design, equipment, and installation.

    How does this make sense for Transit Wireless? I’m convinced that after painful attempts at negotiation with the carriers, they will realize that there is no money to be made in this venture, and they’ll back out. Sometime, they will abandon the philosophy that “if you build it, they will come.”

  7. brooklyn gal says:

    As a young woman who often takes the train home late at night, often waiting looooong periods on the platform for a train to arrive, with very few people in sight- most of whom one might label “unsavory”…. I certainly will put up with the obnoxious factor.

  8. That, brooklyn gal, is a good point. I think cell service in the subways may cut down on issues relating to those “unsavory” characters that seem rather threatening late at night. I do believe this cell service is great for emergency responses and the like in the subways. I’m not sure we’ll see too many rush hour benefits though.

  9. Clay says:

    Most likely you won’t notice a thing.

    There’s been cell phone service at Pavonia/Newport – one of the PATH stations – for a few years now (5? 6?) and I’ve never been bothered by anyone hollering or being obnoxious.

  10. Clay: Same thing in the DC Metro. But it’s the principle of it. Shhh.

  11. Jack says:

    Platforms are quiet places? News to me. I guess you guys don’t use four track local stations where an express train and its 100+ decibel noise level flies by every 2 minutes.

  12. ABG says:

    I want to second what Iread said. I take the #7 train, and I hate hearing everybody’s idiot conversations. I don’t speak Fujianese but I can still tell you’re having an idiot conversation, and I still don’t want to hear it.

    Jack, there’s a big difference between a train passing (which is loud, but “white noise,”) and someone yapping about how lame their friends are. Everyone who values their peace of mind will rue the day that this thing goes live.

  13. Alon Levy says:

    I used to live in Singapore, where cells work at the stations and sometimes in the tunnels, and where most of the system is elevated. Honestly, I never found it annoying, and I don’t think any of my friends did, either.

    Also, at my NYCT station, 116th-Columbia University, I managed to briefly make a phone call a few weeks ago.


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