Nov
13

Saturday reading: What role wi-fi for transit?

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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.



6 Responses to “Saturday reading: What role wi-fi for transit?”

  1. Christopher says:

    The longer commute question is interesting. I regularly travel to DC for work. I’d rather take Megabus or Bolt than the train — despite it taking an hour longer — because they have Wifi. (The price doesn’t hurt either, but only makes aspects of Amtrak — no wifi, inability to easily change tickets — seem even more ridiculously expensive.)

  2. gash22 says:

    How is it not a competition? Transit competes with other modes and if it can offer something they cant, how will that not drive ridership? Example I am taking a trip up to boston in a few weeks, I could have driven my car, or for about the same price I chose to take megabus because I can use the wi-fi and it takes about the same amount of time. Having wi-fi on the bus makes it a more appealing mode.

  3. Andrew says:

    Oxford Tube is a bus. And Amtrak, of course, isn’t commuter rail.

    There are two frequent bus services between Oxford and London: Oxford Tube and Oxford Espress. Both offer wi-fi. If one didn’t, presumably it would lose ridership. The train is faster than the bus, but I don’t think it has wi-fi.

    • Jim Baker says:

      Oxford Tube (Stagecoach) offered Wi-Fi first, then Oxford Espress (GoAhead) followed up as they were losing passengers to Stagecoach. Chiltern Rail, who operates the trains between Oxford and London and would be the competing service to the buses, have not responded by installing Wi-Fi, to their detriment.

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