Metro may bring cell service to subways

By Aaron Blevins, 2/28/2013

If approved, installation will take two years


Frustrated Metro riders on the Purple and Red lines who have been unable to use their cell phones in the subway may see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Today, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Board of Directors is scheduled to discuss whether to award a 20-year revenue-generating contract to InSite Wireless, which would serve as a neutral host provider. According to the proposal, InSite has guaranteed Metro annual revenues of $360,000.

Metro spokesman Rick Jager said InSite will install the equipment and then contact mobile carriers, such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T, to see if they want to participate. He said the installation will take approximately two years.

“It’s good news for the riders,” Jager said. “Hopefully, when it’s up and running, they can benefit from it.”

He said the effort began after the board requested Metro staff to provide some type of plan to provide cell phone service in all Metro rail stations and tunnels. Staff members analyzed systems in San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C. They also looked at Amtrak.

Staff members concluded that the ridership experience is “significantly enhanced” and overall personnel and business productivity increased when patrons had access to cell phones and Wi-Fi. Amtrak reported a 2 percent increase in ridership after installing the service, according to the proposal.

Jager said accessibility to cell phones could also provide a safety enhancement for riders. The proposal states that it will enhance emergency response times at Metro stations.

“People feel a little more safer if they can be in contact with people when they’re down in the tunnels,” he said, adding that riders would be able to dial 911 more easily.

While most of Metro’s rail system is above ground light rail, the service was “much needed” on the Purple and Red lines, Jager said, also noting the advancement of the smartphone.

“I think this just makes good common sense,” he added.

Jager said the two-year timeline is based on the requirement that InSite install mechanisms when the subway is not running, which is only from 2 to 4 a.m. each day. He said any cost for riders to use their cell phone on the subway would depend on their carriers.

According to the proposal, the work, if approved, will cost approximately $800,000, and Metro will be reimbursed by InSite when the first cell carrier begins using the system. The document states that InSite was selected due to the company being the highest rated, responsive and responsible proposer, and InSite offered the highest guaranteed revenue.

“This is definitely a revenue generator,” Jager said.



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