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Columbus, Ohio, Outfits Buses with Wi-Fi

Central Ohio Transit Authority recently began installing new wireless communication technology on its buses to replace outdated radios, and plans to add Wi-Fi capabilities for passengers by the end of 2017.

(TNS) -- Columbus bus riders soon won’t have to worry about blowing through their smartphone data limits as they wait for their stop.

The Central Ohio Transit Authority plans to offer wireless internet on all buses before the end of 2017.

COTA recently began installing new wireless communication technology on its buses to replace outdated radios. Initially, that will be used to transmit bus data faster, so COTA’s real-time bus tracking will be more reliable.

But the devices that are being installed on 444 COTA vehicles also accept wireless cards that can broadcast WiFi to people riding the bus.

Those devices will be installed by October, and COTA plans to roll out WiFi next year, said Jeff Vosler, COTA’s chief financial officer.

“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “It’s not unlike what you have in your home.”

COTA still needs to iron out which vendor it will use, what speeds it will offer and whether users will have to pay to access WiFi on buses.

The agency already has its new wireless technology on eight buses, and Vosler said it is working well. It sends data every 15 seconds instead of every minute, so real-time data is more reliable. COTA paid about $1.6 million for the technology.

“The more frequent the updates, the better the information,” he said.

Vosler said COTA also plans to budget for a new fare collection system in 2017. That isn’t expected to be finished until 2018, but he said the agency plans to use federal funds to pay for the $15 million upgrade.

COTA’s current fare boxes were installed in 1995. The authority will move to an account-based system where riders can load smart cards or cell phones with money that is used to pay for bus rides. Cash would still be accepted too.

COTA’s board of trustees also approved a new student pass program for Capital University students.

Under the new program, Capital students will use their student ID cards as bus passes. COTA will bill the university each month for those rides. The program starts Aug. 15 and will run for a year.

COTA is discounting its fares to $1.50 for local and express rides for Capital students. The standard fare is $2 for local lines and $2.75 for express routes. It will charge its standard $3.50 for paratransit.

The university will cover half the cost, with student activities fees paying for the rest. It will cost about $10,000 in the first year, said Nichole Johnson, the university’s spokeswoman.

She said the bus passes will better connect students at the Bexley campus with the city of Columbus and ease congestion and overcrowded parking.

“If participation is really high we’ll keep doing this,” she said. “We see that it strengthens the student experience and solves a parking issue for us, we hope.”

©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.