Golden Gate Ferries Wi-Fi Proposal Greeted Warmly

Published October 1, 2009

Ferry riders in the San Francisco Bay area will soon be able to surf the Internet and check email on their commutes thanks to a wi-fi service to be made available for a small fee.

The program contrasts with many failed attempts by municipalities to provide wi-fi subsidized by taxpayers.

San Rafael, California-based Golden Gate Ferries has issued a request for proposals to establish wi-fi on all its ferries. The company will not pay for the deployment of the network but will allow the wi-fi operator to charge for the service.

The term of the contract is to be five years with two additional one-year options to extend it.

Potential Customer Thrilled

Eric Brewer, founder of and chief scientist of Inktomi Corp., now part of Yahoo, lives in Marin Country and uses Golden Gate Ferries. He is thrilled by the proposed wi-fi on Golden Gate Ferries.

“I believe Internet access is a big draw to get people to use public transportation,” Brewer said. “I sometimes take the ferry to San Francisco, and I know I would personally value such a service,” Brewer said.

Brewer notes there may be some problems with setting up the wi-fi network on the ferries, but he says the problems should be solvable.

“There is some trickiness to implementing it,” Brewer said. “But it is possible, and I am sure there will be some valid bids.”

Free Service Advocated

Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC, thinks Golden Gate Ferries is wrong not ro offer the service free of charge.

“There is a huge pent-up demand for free wireless access, and some businesses have grasped the fact that it costs very little to provide this service and greatly bolsters the customer experience,” Meinrath said.

“The price elasticity of demand for wireless connectivity is exceedingly high—which means that if you’re going to pay to install a system, it’s rarely worth attempting to extract fee-for-service—better to just wrap the extra costs into general operations expenses and make up for it with increased customer satisfaction and use,” Meinrath added.

Open-Access Solution

“I often recommend that people view wireless as an add-on service rather than some sort of moneymaker,” Meinrath said. “Most ferries provide lights and bathrooms for free to customers. Wireless costs a whole lot less than either of these.

“So my recommendation to businesses is to go with a super-simple, efficient, open-access solution,” Meinrath said. “Your customers will be happy, you’ll save a lot of money, and upkeep will be substantially easier.”

Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.