MTA To Test Wi-Fi Technology At 80 Subway Entrances

This past November, Caroline McCarthy broke the news of a deal between CBS & the MTA on her blog on CNET called “The Social”. The deal between the two parties would bring free wi-fi service to a 36 block chunk of midtown. In case you missed the article, here it is courtesy of “The Social“:

A chunk of 36 city blocks in Manhattan will have free, ad-supported public Wi-Fi access by the end of November, thanks to a new initiative from CBS Corporation in conjunction with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York City Transit.

Called the CBS Mobile Zone, this area of coverage will stretch through a bustling, tourism- and business-heavy swath of midtown from 42nd Street north to Central Park south, from Sixth Avenue west to Eighth Avenue. (Landmarks-wise, that’s roughly Times Square to Columbus Circle.)

The new effort will be supported largely by advertising. Upon logging on, Web surfers will come to a home page with “hyperlocal content such as breaking local and national news, sports highlights, weather reports, music discovery, wallpapers, ringtones, maps, a social network, and the ability to search for nearby restaurants, shops and entertainment complete with geographically-targeted community reviews,” according to a release from CBS. Citi and have signed on as sponsors. Some businesses within the midtown zone will also be equipped with routers to take advantage of the Internet access.

At this point, however, it’s only a six-month test, or as CBS calls it, a “pilot program.” After all, the future of public Wi-Fi programs remains hazy as municipal plans continue to stall across the country.

In regards to this program, Marlene Naanes of AMNY reported that the MTA may be able to alert customers to important information via the video screens which reside on the top of 80 subway entrances in the area. Here is Marlene’s article courtesy of AMNY:

Video screens perched atop 80 subway entrances could keep commuters out of harm’s way soon if wireless technology is able to transform them into more than advertising displays.

“If there’s a train collision or a flood, a message would be right there on the sign,” said Chantel Ramon, as she stood in front of a video screen near the Port Authority bus station. “It would make me feel safer, and I wouldn’t have to walk all the way downstairs and see a gate down.”

By the end of the month, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is scheduled to begin testing Wi-Fi technology that will communicate with the screens, which now mostly tout television shows.

The technology — installed by the MTA’s advertising contract holder CBS Outdoor — would allow the agency to override the video ads and transmit messages to straphangers during emergencies.

“So if there is an issue with the trains downstairs, we can tell our customers not to go down there,” said Roco Krsulic, the MTA’s director of real estate.

If the technology is rolled out it would allow more advertisements to be loaded in the loops. Clients, who now buy one-month spots on the screens, could wirelessly update the ads more frequently for a premium price, translating into more ad dollars for the MTA.

The MTA does not know how long it will test the technology, and it is unclear when it would be ready to broadcast emergency messages or offer more advertising options. The cost of the communication system is covered in a contract the MTA has with CBS.

Transforming the video billboards into a useful commuter alert system was one of several communication-enhancing recommendations included in a report about how the MTA handled a transit-crippling storm last August. Commuters were stranded with little or no information after flooding shut down almost the entire system.

“It would be beneficial, just only if you put it in the right place,” said Tony Perry, 29, who said a video screen in the subway would be more effective. “It’s not something that really catches your attention to read it” above ground.

This can only be seen as a win win situation for the MTA & its riders. I know I along with many others would find it very useful if we could find out important information such as cancellations, delays, etc…. before heading into the subway. This could save us valuable time & a head start on finding alternative means of getting to our destination. The arguably best part to this potential service is it would have cost the MTA nothing since CBS is paying to use MTA owned property.

In the end such a system is long overdue as we as straphangers are sick & tired of the station announcements which are usually impossible to hear & provide little to no useful information. Plus do we really want information from sources who are usually the last to know about what is going on? I seriously hope such information will become available along with the wait times for the next train in each direction. If we can get all of these things, I like many will be very happy & impressed!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Unfortunately, this project hasn’t shaken off technical issues yet. It is less a blanket, and more a bunch of wi-fi puddles, that only work with laptops outside, not dual-mode wifi phones or other handhelds, which is the more likely device that people will be using. I would like to see wifi on the commuter railroads and have been working towards that since 2002. We successfully implemented it on the Hampton Jitney, and could do so on the trains. Unfortunately, the MTA is very difficult to penetrate, and doesn’t really reach out to small companies.

[…] York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has been testing Wi-Fi technology and cellular service in its subway system for a few years now. And back in 2007, […]

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