The City of Houston is to expand a trial WiFi service to include all of its trains, buses and para-transport vehicles. According to the Texan city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, its entire fleet of 1,736 vehicles will be kitted out to offer the service over the next 15 months.
However, while the MTA admits that on-transit WiFi services have been high on its riders’ wish-list of improvements for some time, the City has been slow in agreeing to implement it. In fact, it was back in December 2018 that the MTA first announced a six-month test of WiFi on certain local bus and train services.
As part of the Smart-City project that Houston is masterminding, Microsoft agreed to fund the WiFi trial. The MTA planned to gather feedback from passengers on the selected services with a view to expanding the system to its entire Metro Rail network.
Houston’s Metro Rail system carries some 18.35 million riders a year on its 23 miles of track and the pilot scheme was available on the East End and Southeast Lines. WiFi on board was also being trialled on two of the city’s bus routes. The test area was based around the University.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Microsoft spent US$110,220 cost on the pilot scheme, which covered the cost of installing more than 40 WiFi routers on board trains and buses.
The initial plan was to have the test project up and running within a month or two. In the end, it did not go live until October 2019, following a series of delays related to acquiring the right equipment and installing it on buses and trains. The pilot operated through January of this year, just long enough for Metro officials to justify it.
In a poll of users, Metro said 80% said they were satisfied with the WiFi, though it also admitted that more than 70% of respondents said they wanted a faster internet speed and better reliability of the system.
Despite this rather ambiguous feed-back, the MTA is pressing ahead full steam with its City-wide on-transport WiFi programme. It should be complete by the middle of next year.
On-train WiFi services, trackside networks, the growing market for passenger WiFi and on-board entertainment will be the main subjects of BWCS’s WiFi on Trains Conference this year, which has now been postponed from June until the 27th and 28th of October. For information, please contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com .
The 2020 conference (www.Traincomms.com ) is sponsored by Icomera, Nomad Digital, Fluidmesh, RADWIN and Xentrans.