TransLink announces free Wi-Fi for the entire public transit system

Dec 12 2018, 9:37 pm

A new type of connectivity coming to Metro Vancouver’s public transit system is all about introducing a new type of frequency on the region’s buses, trains, and ferries.

TransLink announced this afternoon it is launching free Wi-Fi across the entire public transit system.

It’s being made possible by a new innovative private partnership with Shaw, and it is the first deal of its kind in Canada.

This will be launched in 2020, although the first service on a testing basis will begin next year. The free service will be gradually expanded across the entire public transit network, with a goal of completing the entire system by 2025.

The rollout of free Wi-Fi will begin with SkyTrain and buses, and eventually it will be implemented on the West Coast Express, community shuttle buses, and HandyDart.

A multi-year timeline is required for the rollout as TransLink and Shaw still need to figure out and test the specific equipment requirements for various models of vehicles — over 2,000 buses and hundreds of train cars — to ensure a quality Wi-Fi service is provided. For instance, the long articulated buses used by the busy 99 B-Line will likely require more Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Since 2016, Shaw has been providing free Wi-Fi at both SeaBus terminals and on the SeaBus ferries, and this new agreement significantly expands on that partnership.

The cost of installing and operating all of the new Wi-Fi infrastructure will be covered by Shaw at no cost to TransLink.

In fact, the public transit authority could potentially receive some revenue from Shaw in return for its service. But TransLink says revenue is not the primary objective of this new service, as the focus of the project is to provide a new major passenger amenity.

“This is going to have a huge impact on the customer’s experience,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond. “We have been working on this for several years, and we have been looking for a model to bring that would bring this new customer amenity to our system at the lowest or, in fact in this case, no cost, to the taxpayer and our transit riders.”

Regular transit riders will no longer have to use their cellular data to access the internet and web-based apps. It will be an extension of Shaw Go Wi-Fi for customers of Shaw, and for everyone else they will use the Shaw-operated TransLink network.

Free Wi-Fi on public transit will also help improve the tourist experience in the city. Ty Speer, the CEO and President of Tourism Vancouver, said 43% of visitors to Vancouver use the public transit system during their stay.

“We have a city that is so easy to get around… but we’ve really had a barrier with the visitor experience, as when they (tourists) turn on their phones on, they are just connected like anybody else and they want to plan their experience, do more, learn more, and buy more, but they are blocked with a potential cell charge or roaming charge from their home country,” said Speer.

“And now, I think we can unlock that… it is really going to power our visitor experience. It is going to add quality to our visitor experience. It is going to add the opportunity for all those visitors to do more, and it means more businesses in the hospitality sector will have more customers, more revenue, and more job opportunities.”

TransLink previously tested free Wi-Fi on its buses as part of a pilot project with TELUS in 2014.

While Shaw is the designated provider of free Wi-Fi, cellular connectivity in all of the SkyTrain tunnels is operated by Rogers, which also funded and installed the cellular infrastructure at no cost to TransLink.

In addition to improving passenger amenities, the public transit authority has also been upping its level of transit service as part of the Mayors’ Council plan. In 2019 alone, TransLink will receive 56 new train cars for the Expo and Millennium lines, hundreds of new buses (including new articulated buses for four new B-Line routes), and an additional SeaBus vessel to help meet its record ridership growth.

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