WiFi on the Bus and Train?

GO Transit has been running a pilot project with IMA Outdoor to provide free WiFi internet access to customers at select GO Stations.

Even though this sounds like great news, they have gone ahead and listed all the “constraints” and challenges this would bring.

The text below is written by the GO & IMA team. More details are on the GoTransit website, here.

What are the constraints of WiFi on GO Trains, specifically?

Substantial Infrastructure Changes

WiFi on trains relies on cellular modems that use the same networks as smart phones. While coverage of the cellular network is fairly strong along our rail corridors, accommodating the volume of 2,000 passengers during rush hour requires an increased numbers of Wi-Fi access points, cellular modems, and other infrastructure on the train, which can be very complicated and expensive.

Low Quality Service

Even with a significant dedication of resources, it may not be the high-quality customer service experience GO wants to provide. The WiFi signal could be poor and slow with frequent disconnections, and it would be difficult for us to provide technical support.

Installation & Maintenance Challenges 

The logistics of installing and supporting WiFi could also prove challenging. GO currently operates 560 train coaches at a highly specialized facility, which is operated jointly by our partner Bombardier. Installing WiFi equipment on our rail coaches could interfere with the routine maintenance and repair of the train fleet. In order to meet our objective of minimizing impact on GO operations, an installation schedule for WiFi could take up to two years to fully implement across the fleet. It could also result in an inconsistent experience for customers.

Technological Evolution 

At the rate in which mobile internet technologies are developing, the equipment installed on trains could be out-of-date by the time they are fully phased in.

No Supporting Business Model 

GO consulted industry experts and examined media coverage on other transit agencies that have implemented Wi-Fi programs. From this research, it was difficult to identify any other transit agency in North America that has provided reliable and high-quality WiFi on trains with a sustainable, cost-recovery business model and at no cost to the customer. This has led to many other transit agencies to spend a significant amount of money on on-board WiFi networks that still often fail to meet customer expectations.