Free Wi-Fi! More please


Reader Jacky spotted a free Wi-fi North Star bus.

Thanks ASB. How about a sponsorship of all Auckland trains signage in return for Wi-Fi?!

It’s what the modern day commuter needs.

Smart corporates like Starbucks and McDonalds have already worked out that is the hook that helps bring in the customers.

Back in the ARC days chair Mike Lee said Auckland’s new electric trains must be iPad-friendly.

Studying the KiwiRail specifications in its procurement document for the new trains, Mr Lee said it needs to specify that the new rolling stock must be designed for the modern wired needs of commuters.

That means making them compatible for laptops, iPhones, Blackberries, iPads etc.

Mike Lee, himself an iPhone user,  says modern overseas rail has been designed so people can work on their laptops or whatever and charge them as they travel.

We heard no more from those who sign off the documents so it’s time we made a fuss.

Expect iPads to be common on the new trains

Wellington’s Capital Connection has this facility and the recent discussion about a Waikato-Auckland commuter service also raised the need for people to be able to work on board for the long journey.

But some US Metro commuter services go further and now provide Wi-Fi.

For example New Mexico’s Rail Runner commuter line serving Albuquerque and Santa Fe offered free WiFi service to its 4,500 riders.

New York’s rail authority has advertised for tenders from companies that want to offer Wi-Fi to the 300,000 daily commuters on the Long Island railroad line  and Metro-North lines, the nation’s busiest.

A 2007 study, conducted for the Illinois Department of Transportation at the direction of the legislature, concluded that providing broadband Internet access on Metra and Amtrak could “have positive impacts on traffic congestion, traffic safety, the economy, and other aspects of the quality of life Illinoisans enjoy.

San Francisco’s rail authority estimates 71% of its commuters carry a laptop, PDA or WiFi-capable device. Some Silicon Valley workers use the Altamont Commuter Express, which has provided WiFi since 2003 aboard its trains between Stockton and San Jose.

Boston’s rail service has extended WiFi on its trains and now runs at least two WiFi cars per train on its 13 lines. On the outside of the cars is an AT&T logo to designate it has the service.

A new high-speed private rail service for Italian cities will have satellite access, Wi-Fi, a cinema car, chef-made cuisine and Internet ticketing.



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  1. Paul in Sydney says:

    Sydney has setup wifi on it’s platforms in the CBD stations as a trial

    A quick and simple way to get wifi up and running, britomart should be wifi’d up

  2. Patrick R says:

    I did a post over on transport blog about this. It is really important, there is a generational shift at work here: It is more important to be online than to be behind the wheel, good, free, fast, connection has the significance that having wheels used to have in days when cabinet ministers were single…. should be a priority for PT providers as it capitalizes on a key PT strength; the liberation from needing to be in charge of a vehicle:

  3. George D says:

    Is it really that important? I think it’s better to focus on getting people where they need to be quickly and efficiently. This is icing, but it isn’t the cake, which is still having ingredients thrown in.

    If they want to bring books, MP3 players, or smartphones/laptops with 3g connections on board, well and good. Nice to have, but it will distract from other more necessary improvements.

  4. Owen Thompson says:

    I agree with George D. The priority is PT that runs on time. not luxuries like being able to charge your electronic device on the train.

  5. Bryan says:

    I use a 3G mobile-enabled laptop on the train (fortunately my employer pays for it!), and it means I can work and not worry if the train is running on time. And get paid while commuting… :-)

  6. Patrick R says:

    I get it that there are a lot of engineering types on this site who understandably focus on hard kit but it would be a mistake to discount the value of less tangible things like coolness, modernity, convenience, comfort, design, safety etc. Especially as no one is suggesting that these are emphasized instead of improving things like train frequency and reach of the network, but as well as.

    These things can definitely mean more pax, which has got to be good.

  7. George D says:

    Patrick, I agree entirely. I’m sure wifi on public transport would increase patronage, particularly on commuter runs (you still have to be fairly middle-class in NZ to own a device that makes this worthwhile). And make things much more pleasant - we seem reluctant to value things for anything but utilitarian economic use-value in this country. But I also fear, that in the present and future political environment this would detract from, rather than add to, efforts to get new lines, the rail link, and other absolutely necessary improvements.

  8. Patrick R says:

    No I still don’t see these things as unaffordable fripperies but cost effective and useful additional tools for growing the effectiveness, utility, and popularity of the service. And therefore building towards a lower subsidy per pax/km, or even lower gross subsidy [none!].

    Electric rail can be the future for a better AK but it’s going to have to be sold as well as built.

    And I wouldn’t make assumptions about who has smart phones and iPods, I never cease to be amazed at the run down shacks with Sky dishes… if something is important to you you save in other areas. That’s my point, connectivity is vital to the kids. Example, huge boost in library use came with free wifi, also it’s those with less cash who follow the free wifi opportunities….

  9. Alphatron says:

    Here is an interesting article in Mass Transit Magazine on recent international developments in wifi on passenger rail:

  10. Patrick R says:

    Nice, Alphtron: ‘Wireless Internet access drives ticket sales and keeps passengers happy, according to Ross Parsons of BWCS, while a modal shift to trains of between 2% and 4% has been reported where free Wi-Fi is offered.”

    And: ‘free Wi-Fi, the No. 1 amenity requested by passengers”

  11. Alex says:

    The main aim of improvements to PT are to make it more user-friendly and accessible; *free* Wi-Fi is a great way to broaden the target audience that PT is attempting to capture.

    Go for it I say, the sooner the better.

  12. Nick R says:

    “I’m sure wifi on public transport would increase patronage, particularly on commuter runs (you still have to be fairly middle-class in NZ to own a device that makes this worthwhile).”

    Have recently spent a few months in the poorer parts of Asia I have realised that there is a wireless communication revolution going on. Phones that support wifi really are quite cheap and accessible to just about anyone, certainly more so than laptops and 3G plans. Over here there are people who have never had a telephone line in their home who can get free government wifi on a handset at home or in the street.
    As for New Zealand I would say a wifi handset is accessible to more or less everyone, and this would be a great attractor for bus, rail and ferry services.

  13. Johans says:

    WIFI on buses - it would be a great idea - yeah it would be great free but I reckon if we were to pay for it - we could somehow integrate it with our hop cards.


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