Following the lead of agencies in New York, Chicago and Miami, Los Angeles Metro will soon be offering WiFi on many of its buses. Metro is currently working on rolling out cell service on the subway, and last week, it announced a pilot program in which 150 WiFi-equipped buses will be brought into service over the next few weeks, Curbed Los Angeles reports.
If the pilot goes as planned, an additional 150 buses will be equipped with WiFi later this year. Eventually, the entire 2,200 vehicle fleet will offer internet access, though that could take several years. The buses offering wireless service will be marked by a green decal reading “Free Metro WiFi” and distributed throughout the system at random.
Metro has been working to overhaul its bus system this year in the wake of a sobering drop in ridership between 2009 and 2016. Annual ridership dipped 18 percent from 2009 to 2016, as Next City’s Josh Cohen wrote earlier this month, and the system saw 14 percent fewer riders in April 2017 than in April 2016. It’s certainly not alone (bus ridership has been falling in most U.S. cities over the last few years), but the agency is preparing to take a hard look at those numbers. It’s “launching a two- to three-year system study that will culminate in a massive overhaul of bus routes and service levels,” Cohen wrote, adding that it’s also “participating in a joint study with 16 other transit agencies in L.A. County to try to improve intersystem connectivity.”
“It’s been 25 years since we’ve taken a real hard look and restructured our bus system,” Rick Jager, Metro spokesman, told Cohen. “We’re going to take a look at the entire system in terms of the service level, where we’re providing it, what we’re providing, how travel patterns might’ve changed over the years.”
Metro has also announced plans to electrify its entire bus fleet by 2030, LAist reports. As is (becoming) a common theme with Garcetti-era infrastructure, the technology doesn’t yet exist for that promise to hold any water — range is a major issue — but it most likely will by 2020 or 2022, and Metro’s move is preemptive.
In the long run, systemic overhauls will likely do much more than free WiFi to attract and retain riders, though it’s a nice perk. In a TransitCenter report released last year, researchers ranked respondents’ reactions to a list of service improvements. Respondents ranked a faster trip first, followed by more frequent service and a smaller fare. They also highly valued weather-protected bus stops, real-time arrival and departure information, tap-and-go fare cards and a shorter walk to the bus stop. At the bottom of the list? Power outlets and free WiFi.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.