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Los Angeles County Begins Outfitting Buses with Free Wi-Fi

The L.A. County Metropolitan Transit Agency is launching a pilot program, equipping 150 buses with Wi-Fi devices in an effort to improve ridership and passenger experience.

If Los Angeles County is any indication, the latest trend in municipal transit seems to be adding Wi-Fi access to Metro buses. According to The Source, one of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’ blogs, the agency is rolling out a Wi-Fi pilot program to 150 buses to test signal strength, coverage area and unforeseen problems.

In order to gather performance data on all routes, the newly outfitted buses will be dispatched on randomly, treating all neighborhoods and geographic regions the same. The buses will allow riders greater freedom in staying connected to the outside world, whether it's students doing homework on a ride home or someone answering emails on their way to work.

According to the post, the Wi-Fi provided will be equivalent to 4G LTE, capable of providing reliable Internet browsing capabilities, but not HD streaming or large downloads. The service will not track individual smartphones that connect to the network.

Once connected to the service, users will hit a landing page that features a red "panic button" to summon Metro security 24/7, a Metro customer relations chat function and a map with real-time arrival information.

The agency plans on outfitting another 150 buses with Wi-Fi later this year. Following the initial 300-bus roll out, all county buses procured afterward will be equipped with Wi-Fi devices.

Other transportation agencies have outfitted buses, trains and bus stops with Wi-Fi.

While Wi-Fi on public transit seems to be an obvious draw to ease congestion by enticing drivers toward mass transit, some data suggests otherwise. According to a 2016 report by TransitCenter, riders are more interested in frequency, reliability and shorter travel times. Transit riders say the least important improvements are power outlets and Wi-Fi (out of a list of a dozen potential service improvements).

Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.