The drive to attract Wi-Fi customers to various transportation modes does not stop with the airlines. In a pilot project (no pun intended) the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, some Wi-Fi-equipped buses have been put on the streets. As part of a 90-day demonstration project, MVTA equipped five buses and two transit stations in Burnsville and Eagan, MN with a public Wi-Fi system. Wi-Fi is one of several technology projects that the MVTA Board Strategic Planning Committee identified as priorities.
Board Chair Gary Hansen, who is also an Eagan Councilmember, said in a new release, “In the past six months, more and more riders have asked for this service.” If the test project works well technically, rider feedback is positive, and if there is sufficient demand for the Wi-Fi service, MVTA will look at expand the service to additional buses and transit stations after the 90-day demonstration project. One expectation is that commuters will see this as a perk and some may switch to public transportation because of it. As well the MVTA could see some revenue with possible advertising revenue from Wi-Fi providers using the buses for advertising.
While MVTA has just started out with Wi-Fi, other areas of the country have been using it for some time. In San Francisco, private coaches run by some of the major tech companies like Google and Apple, have had Wi-Fi on their employee shuttle buses for at least three years. And Arizona has tried it on school buses. Wi-Fi on buses is a bit trickier than with airplanes. Once airborne, the flight has unrestricted access to satellites. Not so with buses. While satellite uplinks are generally ubiquitously available, certain areas, like a heavily condensed city center with lots of tall buildings, garages and other structures, or heavily wooded areas, canyons and such can block satellite signals. So at present, bus Wi-Fi is limited to fringe areas and routes that don’t travel heavily in dense areas. However, expect HetNets to make that a non-issue eventually.
In any event, the expectations of the riders coupled with potential revenue opportunities for providers should make for some interesting development in the next year or so.