MTA looks closer at wireless service on trains
18 companies submit Internet access plans
The Metropolitan Transit Authority is weighing proposals from telecommunication and transportation firms that are vying to launch Internet access aboard trains and in stations up and down rail lines from Connecticut to Long Island, officials said.
In response to a public request for interest, 18 companies submitted proposals by last week offering their plans to equip and provide wireless Web access aboard trains on both Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Railroad, which the MTA operates, said Aaron Donovan a spokesman for the MTA.
Donovan said the effort to bring Internet access on board trains was related to an overall campaign to bring more technology into the commuting experience, citing the introduction of a service offering real-time service alert texts and e-mail messages and, over time, electronic signs conveying information about delays and arrivals at stations.
"The overall impetus to bring broadband wireless to Metro-North station is the next logical step in our ongoing efforts to improve the technological services we provide our customers," Donovan said. "It is one of the ways we are seeking to improve customer information to our customers."
A request for interest is an intermediate procedure used by agencies to seek rough blueprints and concepts from interested companies before issuing official requests for proposal.
Information on the potential cost and needed equipment to install wireless service on trains hasn't been developed, Donovan said.
Gerard Kopera, chairman of New York's Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council, said New York passengers have actively sought on-board Wi-Fi service to help them make the most productive use of their commuting time.
Kopera said he would prefer that the initial installation be paid for by the authority or the railroad, but once it is in service, charging a small fee for use would be acceptable.
"There is a strong consumer interest in having something like that available," Kopera said. "For the installation of whatever infrastructure is required, one of the carriers might want to foot the bill."
Last year, Cablevision Systems Corp., launched a network offering wireless Web coverage from Greenwich to Milford, including parking lots and platforms from Greenwich to Milford, and north to Redding on the Danbury branch.
That system is only accessible to Cablevision subscribers, according to the Bethpage, N.Y.-based company.
Efforts since 2007 in Stamford and Norwalk to offer free wireless Internet service in public places under the "One Coast, One Future" initiative have been discontinued in most locations because of a lack of use, officials said. The service in Stamford, Norwalk, and Bridgeport was underwritten for the first year by a $15,000 grant from the government.
Because of sparse use, Stamford in 2008 discontinued funding free Wi-Fi service in Columbus Park, Latham Park on Bedford Street and Veterans Park next to Stamford Town Center on Atlantic Street, said Mike Pensiero, information services director for the city.
"Right now those spots aren't funded, and you'd have to make a pretty good business case to use taxpayer dollars to support them," Pensiero said.
This year, Norwalk deactivated Wi-Fi service at the South Norwalk train station, after deciding the cost was not justified by its minimal use, said Karen Del Vecchio, director of information technology for the city.
"The infrastructure is still there and could be reactivated in the future if there is a need," Del Vecchio said. "It didn't see much use because people don't tend to spend a lot of time in train stations."
Staff Writer Martin B. Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 203-964-2264.