Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority officials announced Monday its plans to install wireless voice and data services in the first tunnel segment of the Red line, covering stops from Glenmont to Silver Spring, in addition to 30 underground stations that will have free Wi-Fi service by the end of the year.
This announcement expands a pilot Wi-Fi program, in which WMATA officers installed wireless service on segments of the Blue, Orange and Silver lines between Potomac Avenue and Stadium Armory December 2016.
Stops that will receive Wi-Fi by the end of the year include the rail system’s busiest stops, including Smithsonian, Farrugut West, Crystal City, Dupont Circle and Rosslyn.
The stops included in the plan will account for over 60 percent of current underground metro system.
According to an April 19 WMATA press release, all remaining metro stations will be equipped with Wi-Fi by mid-2018. Metro is working with wireless carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon to ensure coverage.
According to WMATA General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, Metro will invest in Wi-Fi to meet the needs of riders and improve the transit experience.
“Customers have told us that they want the ability to stay connected while on Metro, and we are pleased to have worked with the wireless carriers to deliver this service,” Wiedefeld said in the release.
The announcement comes after Metro’s March 23 announcement that it will increase fares by 10 cents during rush hours and 25 cents during non-rush hours in an effort to combat a predicted $1.1 billion budget deficit by 2020 due to declining ridership.
WMATA will also eliminate 14 low-traffic Metrobus lines, reducing service hours and cutting nearly 1,000 jobs.
At a March 23 press conference, Wiedefeld referenced various factors which have affected ridership, including increases in crime on Metro trains and delays and malfunctions caused by old tracks or train cars over the past few years. The Hoya reported Dec. 10 that a security report presented to the Metro board Dec. 1 recorded 5.4 crimes for every million riders in 2016.
Metro employees will also install a new radio system for trains and emergency responders over 100 miles of tunnel walls. The process of installing the wireless cables and radio system will require weekend track outages, according to Wiedefeld.
Free Wi-Fi has also been offered at six Metro stations as part of a pilot program that was initiated in August 2016, including Metro Center, Gallery Place, Judiciary Square, Union Station, Archives and L’Enfant Plaza.
Wiedefeld told the Washington Post he would use the results from the program to determine how WMATA would expand Wi-Fi across the system.
At the time, Wiedefeld said the program would assess riders’ needs while using WMATA services.
“We are listening to our customers’ ideas about ways to improve their experience riding Metro,” Wiedefeld said in an Aug. 29, 2016 statement.
WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel told the Washington Post on Monday the initiative comes at minimal cost to WMATA since most installations only involve making prior networks that WMATA employees use available to the public. WMATA spent a total of $5 million “building out” its network to employees and launching its pilot program.
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