COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council has approved a pilot project to put Wi-Fi on a few city buses. The council agreed Tuesday to put one to two Wi-Fi devices on high-use buses and to discuss the results in six months.
City Manager Bill Watkins said the council will look at how many times the Wi-Fi is used to determine if it will be spread to all 40 city buses.
Signal transmitting devices called Mi-Fi, purchased through Sprint, can be put on buses to give Wi-Fi access, said Information Technology director Robert Simms. He said the Sprint bill lists how many megabytes and kilobytes were used, which can be divided by 30 to see how much the devices are used per day.
IT tested the Mi-Fi on buses and it successfully provided Internet access. The card in the device limits the use of Wi-Fi to five people on a bus at a given time.
The only information IT and the council could see is the amount of megabytes and kilobytes used. Simms said no one can tell which Web sites people use.
According to a report presented to the council from IT, Mi-Fi access points cost $200, vehicle charging kits cost $30 and mounting kits are $65. A data plan would cost $40 a month.
The report estimates a cost of $295 for hardware and a $480 data plan for each bus annually. The cost to set up Wi-Fi on the city’s 40 buses would be $11,800 and the annual data cost would be $19,200. The cost for the first year of use would be $31,000.
Watkins said the idea for Wi-Fi on buses came from former Second Ward Councilman Christopher Janku, who asked IT to look into the idea.
Simms said citizens have not expressed a demand for Wi-Fi on buses.
Transportation Manager Ken Koopmans said he has not received any requests from people for Wi-Fi on buses. He added that the bus station offers Wi-Fi, but he believes it's “not used all that much.”
IT presented the idea to the council about two years ago, Simms said. At that time, IT recommended the council not go forward with the project because of the expense, Simms said.
The council asked IT to look into it again, and Simms said the project is now easier and cheaper because of the Mi-Fi device.
Simms said the Public Works Department is recommending doing the pilot project on buses that students use.
Simms said he does not believe nonstudents would use laptops on city buses as much as students would. “Most people are not on for longer than 15 to 20 minutes,” he said, adding that that leaves little time to use the Internet.
If the council decides to approve the use of Wi-Fi on all city buses, Simms said it would be a gradual process. He added that if there was approval, Wi-Fi would be available on all buses not just ones used mostly by students.
If the council decides not to go on with the plan after the pilot project, Simms said only monthly data plans are set up with Sprint and could be canceled.
Koopmans said the pilot project's buses have not been determined.