Finding Wi-Fi access on a moving vehicle is still a thrill for many transit riders. But with dozens of municipal public transportation systems across the country offering on-the-go Internet access — for example, Boston, Oakland, Calif. — it’s clear the future of transportation in this country involves increasing Internet connectivity. Those transit agencies that successfully install dependable Wi-Fi access, such as Calif.-based Santa Clara VTA — often see ridership increases, so operators are eager for mobile Internet solutions.
In this, the first of two blogs on Wi-Fi for public transportation agencies, I examine why a higher end solution is the wiser choice. The complexity of fleet-wide Wi-Fi deployment requires expert engineering. Bus companies opting for too-basic Wi-Fi systems, such as those intended for RV use, are often frustrated by recurrent and costly connectivity failure.
In part two of this series, we explore advantages and capabilities of advanced transit Wi-Fi systems. Below, I have outlined the major differences between basic/low-grade Wi-Fi systems and high-end solutions designed specifically for train and bus systems.
Overall, more advanced train and bus Wi-Fi systems are hardened—they’re designed for rough road conditions. High-end solutions also offer machine-to-machine connectivity with a robust power range and enough bandwidth to accommodate multiple users. Low-end Wi-Fi systems aren’t designed for commercial use, so they tend to present performance problems, as expanded on below.
Common problems with installing basic Wi-Fi systems on commercial buses:
- Simultaneous user limitations. Generic systems are designed to sustain five or 10 users at once, when a commercial bus may carry 60 people or more. A single rider may connect three devices, thus utilizing most available channels. It’s irritating for agency and rider alike when bus Wi-Fi access is severely limited.
- Power failures. If a system isn’t designed for moving vehicles, it will likely suffer frequent power spikes, which tend to require system resetting. Beyond the hassle of constantly finagling with too-basic Wi-Fi equipment is the fact that, for union or policy reasons, many bus drivers are not allowed to touch electric components. So no matter how riders cajole, drivers can’t reset the Wi-Fi on the road. How frustrating to have Wi-Fi disabled for the entire trip, until the bus can be adjusted by an authorized mechanic.
- Poor Antenna Connections. Typically, mobile Wi-Fi systems see the best performance with roof-mounted antennas. However, most low-end mobile Wi-Fi systems do not accommodate roof mounting, and those that do, require a tricky USB card connection that tends to disconnect frequently. When the antenna connection wiggles loose, reception is lost for the vehicle, exasperating riders.
- Limited Carrier Accessibility. Lower-end Wi-Fi configurations are single-carrier, single-SIM-card systems. Crossing a country line or moving into a certain carrier’s dead zone could interrupt access. Underdeveloped technology limits operational flexibility—there’s no way to switch to a different carrier for increased range.
- No Fleet-wide Software. Without a single system overseeing performance, it’s very difficult to implement effective Wi-Fi access. Centralized software is a must-have for managers overseeing dozens of vehicles simultaneously. Basic systems can’t provide a bird’s eye view of Wi-Fi operation. Nor can they provide real-time information on the GPS location of each vehicle.
Beyond these technical considerations, transit agencies could consider the following financial concern: Without centralized Wi-Fi system coordination, there’s no way to deliver advertisements to riders. Devicescape has found the majority — 68% — of passengers are willing to watch ads in exchange for complimentary Wi-Fi access. Advertising can partially or totally offset transit agencies’ Wi-Fi costs. Higher-end solutions come complete with built-in, advertisement-based revenue systems.
Stay tuned for our next post, on the sophisticated capabilities of advanced train and bus Wi-Fi systems.
Rob Taylo is founder/CEO of SinglePoint Communications, an exclusive U.S. distributor of Wi-Fi in Motion — a rugged suite of products designed to offer high-speed wireless Internet on public transit and private charter vehicles.
In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "Why curb-to-curb service is simply not enough."
While PTC may have just recently entered the consciousness of the public at-large, it has been an issue for freight and commuter rail systems since Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) (P.L. 110-432) in 2008 following the collision between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train in Los Angeles. Since that time, rail organizations have been working toward meeting the federally-mandated PTC implementation deadline of December 31, 2015. With less than six months to go, several commuter rail systems have said that, not only will they not meet the deadline, they will need several more years before having full PTC implementation on their trains.
Disruptive technologies and the new era of information sharing are helping to evolve and advance public transportation in our nation’s greatest cities. Nearly 300 mayors and government officials convened in San Francisco June 19-22 for the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 83rd Annual Meeting, featuring remarks from President Obama and former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. I was invited to speak in front of these influential government leaders to discuss “Technology and the Transformation of Urban Transportation.” This article will give readers an inside look at the conversation.
In times of disaster or tragedy, public transit agencies are frequently called upon to assist their communities and other transportation organizations. In case of fire, evacuation or accident, buses may be used to shelter or transport the displaced or injured, or serve as a respite site for first responders.
As a city, Leipzig is an excellent example of the German principals of transport planning and service as well as eastern Germany’s long history. The city has benefitted from large amounts of investment in infrastructure over the years since German reunification and most transport systems seem to be new or rebuilt, expanded and in a very good current state of repair. The most notable element in the transport mix is inevitably the enormous and historic main railway station, which is one of the largest, but certainly not busiest, in Europe.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s Regional (commuter) Rail system was inherited from the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads and the infrastructure in many sections of the system has been serving the Philadelphia area for more than 100 years. Fifteen years ago, overhead catenary system (OCS) failures were a common occurrence on SEPTA Regional Rail, a result of fatigue cracks and wear. The all too common OCS failures were frustrating for SEPTA customers who occasionally found it difficult to depend on train service for their travels and for SEPTA, whose crews were constantly working to repair and maintain the system.