COLUMBIA — A plan to provide wireless Internet on Columbia Public Transit buses is on hold while the city looks into ways to fund it.
The City Council asked city staff to identify specific bus routes that would benefit from adding wireless Internet and the possibility of subsidizing the costs Monday night.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe suggested considering a pilot route to see if it would attract more riders and see if it could pay for itself.
“There is a bus that goes to my work, but it takes time. If I had Wi-Fi, I would be putting that half-hour to use and would seriously consider taking the bus,” Hoppe said at the meeting.
Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala suggested looking into providing an incentive for those to participate in a pilot program.
While the council agreed that many students would benefit from Wi-Fi, Hoppe asked the staff to look beyond MU students. She said many of them have bus passes provided by the university because they live in distant apartments used as dormitories.
Heather Morgan, a student at Moberly Area Community College who rides the bus three to four times a week, said she thinks that wireless Internet would be helpful for students.
“I would use it. Once you’re on (the bus) you’re on there forever,” Morgan said Monday while waiting to catch a bus at Wabash Station.
Robert Simms, the city’s director of I.T. Services, said it would require a router on each bus to make all riders’ computers compatible with any wireless Internet connection.
He said one of the plans he's looked into, the Sprint unlimited plan, would cost about $40 per month. The routers are approximately $200 and mounting kits are approximately $65.
Simms estimates it would cost about $480 annually for a data plan per bus, according to the city staff report submitted to the council.
The city has 31 fixed-route public buses and nine Para-Transit buses, according to the city staff report. Total costs to outfit all 40 buses with wireless Internet would be $10,600, and the ongoing yearly cost would be $19,200. This would make the first year cost $29,000.
Because of the costs, the Public Works Department recommended not to install the wireless service.
“It’s quite a bit of expense, and most people are only on the bus 10 to 15 minutes. By the time people get on the bus, find a seat, get out their computer, it’s time put it away, and there is nothing to plug it into or steady it on,” Simms said. “The idea was to increase ridership, but this doesn’t seem the way to do it.”