City Council report: Bus riders apathetic about Wi-Fi access

Thursday, June 10, 2010 | 5:16 p.m. CDT; updated 7:41 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 10, 2010

COLUMBIA — City Council members noted the lack of interest from transit riders in a trial of wireless Internet on city buses and made no plans to continue the service.

The program was directed by City Council in September 2009, and the results were shared during Monday's council meeting.


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The pilot program

Wireless Internet service was temporarily provided on two Columbia Transit bus routes in a 90-day trial earlier this year.

Two Wi-Fi devices acquired from a national cell phone provider were installed on the two newest buses at the time, Public Works Director John Glascock wrote in a May 20 report.

Transit staff released a statement, posted signs at Wabash Station and on the buses carrying the wireless cards, and advertised an online survey to get feedback throughout the trial, Glascock said.

The council had planned for the trial to last from January to March during a meeting in September 2009, Glascock said. The program was extended through April after staff found that the Wi-Fi devices would go into hibernation mode after going unused for an extended period, Glascock said. Transit staff rebooted the wireless cards several times and periodically tested the signal, Glascock said.

The results

The report summarizing the results of the Wi-Fi trial was discussed in Monday's City Council meeting.

Usage during the whole trial was “extremely low, to the point that it was possibly no more than what was used by staff,” according to Glascock in the council's report. “There were absolutely no entries on the survey website and staff and drivers received no complaints or comments about the service," Glascock said.

City Manager Bill Watkins said expansion was not recommended for the entire system.

“It’s disappointing,” First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtzsaid. Sturtz said in time, it seemed that Columbia could figure out the technical aspects of this program as other cities have.

The idea was to “diversify the appeal of the transit system,” Sturtz said.

The city wanted to see if it would help increase ridership, Public Works spokeswoman Jill Stedem said.

Watkins said staff placed Wi-Fi devices on two bus routes the council believed students would be using. The buses primarily ran on route 102, the green route, and route 103, the blue route — two more heavily utilized routes, Stedem said.

Passenger reactions

Meagan Sneed takes route 102 to work. She said she uses her cell phone on the bus sometimes to exchange text messages, exchange instant messages and check her e-mail. Wi-Fi would be beneficial, but "I wouldn't use it," Sneed said.

Hazem Hassan doesn't have a laptop. He takes the bus to Columbia Public Library and Ellis Library to use the computers there. Hassan uses the bus every day and said it would be nice to use the Internet on the bus if he had a computer.

Rawan Abdeen and Suhail Almansour have been in Columbia for two weeks. Both have passes and have used the bus almost every day, Almansour said. Abdeen said the two use it to go shopping at the mall or Wal-Mart to get to the university and the health center.

Almansour said he probably wouldn't have time to use the Internet because the time spent riding on the bus is so short, and he said he already has Internet access on his phone. The two students are usually on the bus for about 15 minutes, Almansour said.

Duke Simmons uses the bus every Monday through Saturday. He said the bus is usually too noisy to use his phone, but if wireless service was provided he would use his computer to check e-mail and go online.

Next steps

The wireless Internet access has not been available since April.

The cards that created the wireless hot spots were disconnected after the pilot program, Stedem said.

Watkins said that he doubts the council will consider expanding the program any time soon. He said there was "not a lot of interest by our riders."

Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill said the project was "probably dead in the water." He said he did not expect the City Council to take any action regarding the program. It will just naturally expire, Thornhill said.

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