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Free Wi-Fi on Buses and Trains to Curb Car Use?

Bus commuter with a smart phone
Bus commuter with a smart phone

There are few experiences that are more frustrating than driving through bumper to bumper traffic – you waste fuel, time and a lot of money burning gasoline getting nowhere. Taking the bus or the Metro are some of the ways of getting cars off the road, and who wouldn’t ride mass transit if it was readily available? Well, probably not too many. But what if the bus had Wi-Fi? Well, now you’re talking.  Of course updating one’s status on Facebook is so much more appealing than staring at the stasis of traffic lights.

The impact of Wi-Fi on mass transport ridership has been studied by researchers from Depaul University and Northwestern University Transportation Center.

The researchers from Depaul University looked into the profile of curbside bus line riders in cities in the East and Midwest that offered, among other things, “free wireless internet.” At 91%, almost all of the bus travellers surveyed said that they planned to use their portable electronic devices on board, with almost half (49%) planning to surf the net or shoot emails. Not surprisingly, the availability of wireless internet was a big factor affecting their choice of transportation mode at 45.7%.

The Northwestern University study has a similar finding for train riders of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). It found that broadband access entices people to ditch their cars for the trains. In fact, they cited another study that said that passengers were concerned about “’lost productivity’ due to lack of wireless internet on the trains.”

Many large urban areas worldwide already have free Wi-Fi services on mass transport, according to a report last year by TheCityFix. Cities that offer broadband access on their metro systems are Tokyo, Japan; Moscow, Russia; Paris, France; and Bangalore, Mumbai, and Gurgaon in India. Bus services that offer Wi-Fi can be found in the cities of Porto Alegre and São Paulo in Brazil; Beijing, China; London, United Kingdom; Mumbai, India; and Manila, Philippines. In November 2011, Amtrak launched free Wi-Fi on its California Capital Corridor Route and they found that ridership was higher by 2.7% than it could have been without free Wi-Fi.

The reasons for the popularity of the onboard internet services are obvious. Hardly anyone goes out without a smart phone or tablet anymore. And these devices aren’t just used for calling, texting and playing games, they also allow you learn more about that new restaurant or get tickets to the concert that you are going to.

But probably the killer app is the one that will help you plan and adapt your trip. If the US suffers from train schedules that shift a bit, I live in an area where there is no fixed schedule for mass transit modes.  So it is hard to plan a simple commute from points A to B without a car. But then plowing a car through the jam is hellish, even if a traffic planning app like Waze is available, which is why I prefer to take mass transport. The great thing is that more and more apps are connecting to mass transport services making the experience more pleasant. So it comes naturally that buses and trains offer free Wi-Fi to complement theses apps.

It’s not easy to take mass transport in the States, but a few apps are available on Google Play and on iOS that can help you get around.

So, are you ready to give the free Wi-Fi mass transport commute experience a green light?

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  1. Free wi-fi in public transport , bus and train, is standard in the Netherlands, not only in big cities but everywhere.


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