Saturday reading: What role wi-fi for transit?By
I’ve been sitting on this piece for about 10 days as I just haven’t found an ideal time to post it. It does make for some good weekend reading. So check out Jim Baker’s “Does wi-fi on transit attract riders?” at Mass Transit Mag. Baker explores how a few commuter rail lines — one in Santa Clara, another in Texas — the Oxford Tube bus route in London and Amtrak are judging the popularity of wi-fi offerings on board. Amtrak, for instance, says that 39 percent of Acela riders have made use of their free wi-fi, and they believe the offering will increase ridership — and thus revenue — by $4.3 million over the next five years.
I wonder though if asking about ridership is the proper question. By itself, wi-fi can draw commuters from other transit modalities and can draw customers from one bus line to another. Across greater distances (and outside of the Northeast Corridor), Amtrak isn’t competing with airlines, but it is going up against bus routes that already offer wi-fi. The key question though is one of passenger benefits. Will riders be more productive and thus more accepting of a longer commute if they’re plugged in for the duration? The answer to should be yes, and that’s why wi-fi, free or not, should drive ridership.