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May 29, 2007 > AC Transit brings wireless Internet to buses

AC Transit brings wireless Internet to buses

Submitted By Clarence Johnson

With the unveiling of a specially-equipped fleet of buses, AC Transit officially, launched the first large-scale, wireless internet access (WiFi) operation in the nation, a move that promises to permanently alter what had been routine passenger commutes from the East Bay to San Francisco and the Peninsula.

Buoyed by enthusiastic responses from passengers and months of testing, the agency is now the first public bus company in Northern California-and one of just a handful nationwide-to offer its riders free WiFi.

Available on a select group of distinctively marked buses that run across the Bay, San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges, free WiFi is funded by a $340,000 grant from the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency. The grant pays for equipment, installation and two years of access fees. The idea is to enhance the experience of bus riders who make long commutes, particularly from one side of the Bay to the other.

"Before installing the technology on our buses, we surveyed riders and found a high level of enthusiasm about the possibility of having free, on-board, Internet,'' said AC Transit General Manager Rick Fernandez. "Many people said they would ride the bus more if they had convenient computer access. We have always been open to new technology, if it serves to enhance ridership."

It is estimated that attracting just one new passenger will be enough to cover the agency's monthly access fee of about $60. "So, if WiFi makes commutes more enjoyable and also gets more riders on board, it seems like a sensible investment to us," Fernandez said.

The service works much like cell phones. Passengers simply hop on the bus and turn on their wireless devices. Each bus is equipped with an antenna and router that is tied to the bus's power system. The router is centrally located on the vehicle to give the strongest possible signal.

WiFi access will be exclusively on the 78 MCI, dark green-colored buses that cross the Bay, San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges; and on 12 other buses that are part of the Dumbarton Bridge Consortium. With special decals and coloring, the buses are easily recognized. And the MCI coaches, constructed with just one door for boarding and exiting, are especially suited for extended commutes, such as trips across the Bay.

While several smaller operations exist - such as in Riverside, CA and Sound Transit in Seattle, Wash. - AC Transit's WiFi access will be the largest of its kind the nation.

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