Public Transport Wi-Fi Idea Dropped in Los Angeles

Published July 1, 2008

The Los Angeles Metro system has dropped plans to include wi-fi service on its Orange Line route.

“We got an underwhelming response from potential vendors for that particular project, and we didn’t pursue it because there wasn’t enough interest,” said Metro spokesman Dave Sotero.

“In 2006 Metro issued an RFP to provide wi-fi on the Metro Orange Line to companies willing to install, operate, and maintain the system at little or no cost to the transit agency. No companies were interested at that time, citing ridership, demographics, and length of trip as major concerns,” Sotero said.

“In general, wi-fi for municipal purposes hasn’t taken off as municipal governments have anticipated. That’s the overall trend,” Sotero said.

Sotero continued, “Metro at this time is taking a wait-and-see position on wi-fi on buses and trains because of the rapid change of wireless technology and the competitive environment of providers offering cable, DSL, wireless, cellular, and satellite. Current wi-fi demand is falling well below promised expectations. Metro believes that our customers are better served by taking advantage of existing satellite wireless providers, who are better equipped to provide more reliable service over greater distances and at more competitive prices.”

Austin Adding Wi-Fi

Austin, Texas, meanwhile, is adding more wi-fi on bus routes.

“We have wi-fi on our express routes, and we’re opening a commuter line passenger rail system this fall, and it’ll have wi-fi too. I think it’s been very successful, and people are definitely appreciating it, or we wouldn’t be planning to use it on additional services.” said Capitol Metro spokeswoman Erica McKewen.

McKewen said there wasn’t a need for a referendum or tax increase. “We found money in our own operating budget, so we didn’t have to ask anyone for money.”

Lauding Benefits

Lyly Nguyen is an Austin resident who’s happy with the wi-fi service. She doesn’t ride the bus regularly but uses her laptop on the express route when she does take public transportation.

“It helps me on what I need for my business if I have to use the bus to get to work,” Nguyen said. “I don’t waste any time now. I used to worry that I forgot to do something on the computer at home and couldn’t because I was getting to work.”

McKewen said, “People see it as a way to get their time back. They’re sitting on the bus, and it’s more productive for them. They can get their work done and send their e-mail. Not everyone wants to read a paper on the bus. It gives people more options and time for using to their benefits.”

One reason Austin’s program is relatively successful, McKewen said, is the city’s growing tech population. Austin is home to companies such as Dell and AMD, and many residents expect up-to-date technology as a part of life.

“In Austin, we’re kind of a tech-savvy place, so us implementing this on our buses comes directly from demand,” McKewen said. “It was probably a mix of people requesting it and us [Capitol Metro] requesting it.”

L.A. Monitoring Situation

Sotero said the concept may come up again in Los Angeles. “The agency will continue to track the progression of this technology in the event this concept becomes more feasible in the future,” he said. “WiFi use in municipal systems has not come close to projections for 15-30 percent usage. Instead it’s about 1-2 percent. Use on transit systems shows that only on longer trips [of] 80-plus minutes.”

According to, such services are much more common in Europe. “Buses and trains in Europe are increasingly equipped with free wi-fi because the bus and railway companies are competing with other alternatives–the automobile, airlines, ferries, other transport companies.”

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) is senior election correspondent for