Business Hardware

Would Wi-Fi Push You to Public Transport?

Gas is creeping to $5.00 a gallon. Your commute by car is ever worse, anyway. You're asked to put in more hours in the day, somehow, even if that means staying up late to handle email and prepare for meetings. Isn't there a way out?

Perhaps. While I can't wave a magic wand and put more hours in the day or days in the week - I'd prefer an extra one between four and five a.m., myself - I can tell you that broadband on public transportation is moving past the "nice idea" phase into the "necessary amenity" stage.

The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transportation) system in the San Francisco Bay Area is near to signing a deal with WiFi Rail, a firm that's figured out how to broadcast high-speed Wi-Fi over leaky coax--wire that already lines BART's tunnels to handle existing radio transmissions. (You can hear more about this in a broadcast from National Public Radio's Morning Edition that aired this morning.)

BART handles many millions of trips per year, and the folks I know down around the bay are quivering with anticipation. Most people probably wouldn't use a laptop on BART - the trains are crowded during rush hour already, and likely to be more so as people turn increasingly to the service. But most of my friends seem to own iPhones and BlackBerrys with Wi-Fi, and thus would be processing email during time that it might be hard to even read a book or newspaper.

Bus and train systems around the country have installed full rollouts and trials. In Utah, Massachusetts, Texas, California, and Florida, to name just a few states, transit authorities are seeing what the response is when you pair Internet access (often for free or at a relatively low monthly cost, like $20) with avoiding the cost and frustration of driving. That might push people over the top.

How about you? If you have a commute already, would having reliable medium-speed - say 200 to 400 Kbps - Internet access all along your route, from departure to arrival station make a difference in how you travel?

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