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Clean Transport

Published on November 1st, 2014 | by Cynthia Shahan


Improving & Increasing Mass Transit With Wi-Fi

November 1st, 2014 by  

Automobile traffic produces air pollution, chokes cities, and wastes time. Mass transit is one of the best options for change. Many of us would ride mass transit if it was readily available. But I think many more would be inclined to ride if the metro offered internet access.

Extra Wi-Fi time instead of the stasis of looking at traffic lights is appealing. A few large urban transport systems outside the US now offer Wi-Fi, but it is not at all common. That is changing. Hopefully, transit agencies will quickly find that the simple addition increases ridership and will follow suit.

train wifi

While studies cannot predict absolutely what the addition of W-Fi would bring in terms of ridership, there is preliminary research on the topic. Depaul University recently released one, “Who Rides Curbside Buses? A Passengers Survey of Discount Curbside Bus Services in Six Eastern and Midwestern Cities,” and a graduate student at the Northwestern University Transportation Center, Charlotte Frei, published a piece “Private Time On Public Transit: Dimensions Of Information And Telecommunication Use Of Chicago Transit Riders.” The articles, after delving into this issue, find that it is likely that Wi-Fi on transit will help increase ridership. It makes sense — finishing some work on the way home in transit will allow less work in the office or once you are home; Googling to finalize some plans; or just scrolling through recent news from your favorite website allows you to make use of your commute time.

TheCityFix reports that in the last year large urban areas have started offering free Wi-Fi services on their transit lines. Tokyo, Japan; Moscow, Russia; Paris, France; and Bangalore, Mumbai, and Gurgaon in India have well developed metro systems that offer free Wi-Fi. Cities such as Porto Alegre and São Paulo in Brazil; Beijing, China; London, United Kingdom; and Mumbai, India have buses that are going to try offering Wi-Fi.

The journal Transportation has a report that estimates, “Using the estimated parameters from the model, the expected number of trips on CC trains for 2012 is 2.7 % higher than it would have been without free Wi-Fi. In particular, new riders expect to make 8.6 % more trips than if Wi-Fi were not available, while the expected number of trips made by lower-frequency continuing riders (those using CC less than once a week in 2011) and higher-frequency continuing riders (those using CC once a week or more in 2011) increase by 6.2 and 1.0 %, respectively.”


While new on transit, time will tell whether increased ridership will be worth the cost to providers. But it is not only about ticket revenues in cities. Large urban areas are struggling with air pollution (fumes from cars), and mass transit takes cars off the road. It is as simple as this. Along with air quality, quality of life is improved. Sitting in traffic does nothing but promote stagnation of health in a personal and wider sense. It will be hard to quantify those benefits.

Technology also improves the use of mass transit in other ways. The smartphone is more than great photos and daily texts. It helps connect bicyclists. It enables ridesharing. It is also useful as a good aid for mass transit, including finding routes home and checking transit times. Timetables and predictability of transport services improve with real-time crowdsourcing apps.

Train trips are my favorite. However, in the US, train timetables shift quite a bit. Planning even a simple, spontaneous trip is an easier experience with apps connected to transport systems. So, as part of the future of mass transit, free Wi-Fi service falls into place as a natural evolution.

In the US, we lag behind in mass transit except in a few areas. Many of us wish and long for more availability. California has improved in spite of lack of perfect infrastructure. From Planetsave.com: “To be exact, almost 23% of household trips were taken by walking, biking, and public transportation during the recent study, as compared to ‘just’ 11% back in 2000.”

If you do own a phone and choose to ride mass transit as much as possible, make sure you catch Planetsave’s article, “This App Could Revolutionize Public Transit.” Half the trouble with mass transit is knowing where and when a transit vehicle can pick you up. This app helps a lot with that.

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Image Credit: train Wi-Fi user via Shutterstock

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About the Author

is a Mother, an Organic Farmer, Licensed Acupuncturist, Anthropology Studies, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

  • bouchaib

    قصة بيع السيدة نرجس عليها السلام الاسلام وفتنة أبن مليكه ونرجس حسن العسكري صدقت انا المهدي المنتظر arab

  • bouchaib


  • EMRaware

    Cynthia, are you aware that there is a growing percentage of people who can not tolerate exposure to wi-fi? You seem like someone who is concerned about the planet – have you heard of microwave sickness or electrohypersensitivity?

    • Ronald Brakels

      So far not one single person in the world has, under controlled conditions, demonstrated the ability to detect whether or not they are exposed to communication level electromagnetic radiation such as used in wi-fi. But if you do find someone who can do this, let me know, as they may be able to get…one…million…dollars!

    • AltairIV

      “Microwave sickness” and “electrohypersensitivity” … or as they are more accurately named … “the nocebo effect”.

  • Smokey100

    Wow – that train is way better than anything we have in Australia, even the interstate runs. We have WiFi on a percentage of our city commuter trains, and as long as you work in the city it’s great, but if you have to change trains and link with buses it is far easier and quicker to go by car.

    • Offgridman

      Pretty train, pretty passenger, oh the blessings of stock photos. 😉

      • Jan Veselý

        Usual EU train. I recently traveled in something similar. It cost me about 15 USD for 250 km ride, bottle of water, newspaper, wi-fi, 220V outlet and smily stevard.
        And this company is making a profit on me.

        • Offgridman

          It was my guess that the photo was from there but didn’t know for sure.
          Fortunate you to have this option for travel, it has long been a hope that the US will get caught up with the rest of the world and this civilized mode of transportation.
          Recently a new rail route between Orlando and Miami, Florida started. While it isn’t high speed rail compared to what is available in Europe it will make it easier for my sons and I to visit Miami when we do our winter visit to central Florida than trying to drive down. We are looking forward to seeing the sights down there and the doing the trip by train.

  • AltairIV

    Having network access when stuck on a train is certainly handy.

    I don’t know about wi-fi in particular, but the train and subway companies here in Osaka have certainly focused in the last year or two on ensuring that 3G/LTE coverage is available on moving trains. It’s nice to finally be able to send an email without waiting for the train to reach the next stop and finally get a signal again.

    It’s interesting to note that Japan lags far behind most other countries in public wi-fi coverage, ironically because they had such an early head start in net-enabled phones to begin with. Most users even now still just sign up for the high-to-unlimited data packages offered by their providers, and so there’s not that much actual demand for wi-fi when on the move. Things are slowly starting to change due to the much larger data demands of smartphones, but it’s going to take quite a while before it becomes commonplace.

    It also seems to me that there’s a bit of a cultural bias here against the idea of free-for-the public offerings in general. Some kind of fee is charged for almost everything, and arbitrary restrictions abound. I have still never seen a truly free and open hotspot; only those offered by Starbucks and the like for their customers. And please don’t get me started on the way the cities seem to be actively retarding the use of bicycles through draconian parking restrictions and inadequate, expensive parking facilities. (This last comment being in partial reply to Marion Meads’ previous post).

  • Marion Meads

    More important than WIFI is the last mile transportation to get to the place of work from the final bus stop. It can be solved by community bikes that are free.

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