The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced on Tuesday plans to expand cellular service and Wi-Fi throughout the entire subway system. While commuters have been able to use their mobile devices at all underground subway stations since 2017, the proposed project would bring cell connectivity to all tunnels between stations and in above-ground stations. The MTA estimates it would take 10 years to turn the subway system into a fully digitally connected network.
“Having uninterrupted network connection underground will reimagine how New Yorkers travel by providing the opportunity to take advantage of every minute of their commute with cell service and internet connection, which can also ease any traveling obstacles visitors face when trying to navigate the system,” Richard Davey, president of NYC Transit, said.
The project involves partnering again with Transit Wireless, the same company tapped by the MTA in 2007 to bring cell service and Wi-Fi to all 281 underground subway stations. Transit Wireless also made the L train tunnel fully connected, the first for the subway system.
Through the program, cell coverage would be available throughout all 418 track miles of subway tunnels, along with 191 above-ground subway stations and 21 Staten Island Railway stations.
The project will cost $600 million and take 10 years to complete, according to the MTA. The MTA’s Finance Committee approved the contract earlier this week, but the full board will vote on the proposal on Wednesday, according to amNY.
The plan comes as the MTA faces financial trouble with subway and bus ridership expected to remain low for longer than expected, according to new numbers presented by the agency on Monday. The MTA will go off a “fiscal cliff” a year sooner than previously projected, as the roughly $15 billion in federal aid is expected to run out in 2024.
According to The City, consultants at McKinsey & Company in November 2020 projected “new normal” levels of ridership would reach between 80 and 92 percent of pre-pandemic levels by the mid-2020s. As ridership today remains at 60 percent of the 7 million daily trips pre-pandemic, a new forecast says the system may not hit 80 percent until the end of 2026.
“Bringing cell connectivity to the tunnels between stations and Wi-Fi to above-ground stations is a major step forward in enhancing transit riders’ experience,” MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber said. “And the deal MTA has landed will also help the MTA’s bottom line – a major concern as the pandemic winds down.”
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