Home MTA Technology MTA moving forward with wireless access plans

MTA moving forward with wireless access plans

by Benjamin Kabak

Last month, the Senior Senator from the Great State of New York issued a call for the MTA to outfit their commuter rail trains with wireless Internet. I used his call as a launching point for a brief discussion on how Amtrak, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road should all be equipped for wireless.

Today, we learn that the MTA, both independent of and because of Schumer’s call, is moving the ball on their wireless plans. Late last week, the agency issued a Request for Expressions of Interest for wireless access on commuter rail trains and in stations. Proposals are due on September 1, and the MTA will establish a timeline of access and hopefully technological adoption in the fall.

Agency officials said that they had these plans in the works prior to Schumer’s comments. “We had [the proposal] in the works prior to the Schumer announcement,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said to amNew York’s Heather Haddon.

Meanwhile, MuniWireless, a municipal wireless access blog, has the full RFEI. The full document is 50 pages long and includes a breakdown of ridership demographics and daily station ridership figures. It will make sense to outfit the more popular ones with wireless and to skip some of the lesser used stations.

NYCWireless notes that the RFEI does not include free wi-fi. Dana Spiegel believes that, since these networks are expensive to install and maintain, the MTA will have to charge for wireless access aboard the trains.

In the end, as the RFEI says, this early-stage request will give the MTA “the opportunity to review different technologies and solutions and to evaluate different business cases. As an option, one or both of the Railroads may decide to permit a technical trial of one or more technical solutions at no cost to the Railroads. After the Railroads review the responses to the RFEI (and the results of technical trials, if any), a decision will be made whether to proceed with a wide scale on-train and/or station wireless broadband implementation pursuant to a subsequent request for proposals (“RFP”).”

It’s early for sure, but it’s a start. As I mentioned yesterday in discussing Transit’s public address problem, the authority has lagged across all divisions in bringing new technology on line. To see them moving forward on this project and with an aggressive two-month time frame gives me home for transit-related technology improvements sooner rather than later.

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Working Class July 10, 2009 - 9:27 am

In my opinion it should be a much bigger priority for the MTA to install cell phone service throughout the entire subway system rather than this plan. It would benefit alot more riders.

Benjamin Kabak July 10, 2009 - 10:20 am

I have a few responses to this one. First, they’re already working on it. That’s been one disastrous plan after another, but it’s sorta on the way. Meanwhile, equipping above-ground/at-grade commute rail cars with wireless is far easier, far cheaper and far more practical than equipping the subway system with cell service is. It makes sense to pursue this while Transit is trying to outfit its system with cell coverage.

Working Class July 10, 2009 - 11:03 am

How is it far more practical to equip the LIRR and MNR with wireless than to equip the subways with cell coverage?

You say cell coverage is on the way in the subways, but the last I heard there wasn’t even a contract yet and they were only talking about doing the platforms.

Benjamin Kabak July 10, 2009 - 11:21 am

Because the LIRR/MNR trains don’t run underground have ready access to signals. Implementation doesn’t have to work around utilities and signal-blocking elements in the ground.

rhywun July 10, 2009 - 11:20 am

This better not be taking one penny away from service or equipment costs. We can’t afford frills like these when the system’s basic functionality is in such jeopardy.

Benjamin Kabak July 10, 2009 - 11:22 am

It’s a request for an expression of interest. It’s not even an RFP yet. No need to worry.

Kai July 10, 2009 - 11:18 am

I agree. First, you have many more riders/customers. Second, on LIRR and MNR you already have access to phone and data via 3G. It’s not as fast as wi-fi, but it works.

Benjamin Kabak July 10, 2009 - 11:20 am

I still don’t really see why the two have to be mutually exclusive. MNR/LIRR/NYCT are all run by different agencies, and there’s no reason why the MTA can’t use resources to outfit all three with various wireless technologies. We’re thinking too small here.

Working Class July 10, 2009 - 12:25 pm

Yes NYCT/LIRR/MNR are run by different agencies but you fail to realize that they are in fact all a part of the MTA and use the same funds available to the authority!

Benjamin Kabak July 10, 2009 - 12:33 pm

And you’re failing to recognize the differences in ease of technological implementation. No one is taking money away from one project to put it to another either. Why are you so adamant that the MTA not do this? They need the technology across all systems, and they’re not even spending money on this yet. It’s a request for interest, not a request for proposals.

Working Class July 10, 2009 - 12:57 pm

I’m not against the wifi at all I just don’t think it should be even discussed until at the very least a contract is awarded and work is started on cell service in the subways. I am in favor of cell service in the subways for safety reasons being that the MTA and NYPD are intent on reducing man power underground at all costs.

Does Spider-Man Have a Permit for That Web? - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com July 10, 2009 - 11:46 am

[…] the speed of a local train, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority continues to make progress on wireless Internet access for commuter trains. [2nd Ave. […]

InwoodWoman July 10, 2009 - 11:49 am

Amtrak has already been experimenting with free wireless access on selected regional and Acela trains. Perhaps MNR/LIRR/NYCT could take a page from Amtrak’s trials to see what is cost-effective and actually works.

While the free wifi on Amtrak is spotty at times, it still offers a potential model of what does – or doesn’t – work.

John July 10, 2009 - 12:27 pm

Amtrak just needs to get wifi on all their trains nationwide, like yesterday. It would give a lot more options of what you can do on train rides. And I don’t even think it would have to be free on all trains – they could charge a little bit, especially on the longer routes.


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