A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WiFi Technology Moves Travelers to Transit

NPR's Marketplace radio show last night had a story about the booming inter-city bus services, and how new on-board amenities like wifi service is letting bus services steal market share from airlines and Amtrak. Here's the transcript, and an excerpt:

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Brandon Prust is not the kind of guy you might expect to take the bus. He's wearing a nice suit and overcoat, and has a laptop slung over his shoulder. The international finance worker might have taken the train...

BRANDON PRUST: But there's no Wi-Fi. So if there were Wi-Fi, I'd probably take Amtrak but...

BERNSTEIN: Do you ever think the bus is kinda low class? It's you know...

PRUST: Not this one.

Here in Maine, though, the situation is reversed: the Downeaster passenger rail service offers wifi for its passengers, but Concord Coach hasn't... yet.

That will soon change, though: a number of new buses run by Concord Coach in Maine now sport their own free wifi connections. Still, for the time being, the new white buses are only a small part of the Portland-to-Boston fleet. There's no way to know whether the bus you'll be riding has wifi until it's time to go, so it's a bit of a crapshoot for passengers. Hopefully Concord Coach will roll out the technology to the rest of its buses quickly, so that its passengers can be as certain about getting wifi as they are about getting a mediocre movie.

According to the Downeaster's manager, Patricia Quinn, an on-board wifi connection costs about $230 per unit, plus $45 a month for the service. For a bus carrying hundreds of passengers a day, those costs are pretty minor, and they're likely to be offset by the addition of new (and happier) riders. Other bus services, like the ZOOM Turnpike Express, a commuter bus that travels between Biddeford and Portland, should also be adopting this technology as soon as they can.

Whether it's on a bus or a train, wifi on transit services is just one more reason that fewer and fewer people are willing to waste their time in the driver's seat of an automobile.

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