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Wi-Fi on area buses helps riders work while commuting

Commuters often grumble about losing valuable time while they travel to and from work. Last year, Johnson County Transit conducted a pilot project to test wireless Internet performance on several of its buses. The Wi-Fi system enabled riders to use laptop computers and other wireless mobile devices to access the Internet for free. Riders appreciated being able to make more use of their commute time, which led the agency to install equipment and deploy Wi-Fi permanently on 15 of its buses — including ones that travel the K-10 Connector route between Overland Park and Lawrence.

Since August, riders on Wi-Fi-equipped buses have been able to use their wireless-enabled devices to surf the Web, check e-mail, and work while commuting at no charge, which is especially helpful on longer trips. Scott Caldwell, The JO’s technical services manager, said riders are overwhelmingly pleased with the amenity, and they are clamoring for Wi-Fi on more buses and with faster connections.

Jeff Arterburn from Overland Park rides the K-10 Connector from the University of Kansas – Edwards Campus to Lawrence once a week for graduate school. He chooses to take the bus because “it saves on my fuel and car wear and tear.” On those days, his combined commute to Lawrence and back lasts about an hour and 40 minutes. Sometimes he uses the Wi-Fi service to be more productive on his way to and from school, but more often he spends his commute catching up on sleep. Arteburn says the Wi-Fi service is pretty easy to use. “I think it is a good move,” he says of The JO’s newest passenger amenity.

Wi-Fi is currently provided through a partnership with Sprint Nextel Corp. and SinglePoint Communications. Buses equipped with Wi-Fi are identified by signs inside, and most rotate between The JO’s various routes to maintain vehicle wear and tear.

Outfitting an entire bus fleet with Wi-Fi is an expensive undertaking, but The JO is looking at advertising sponsorship as a model to cover the cost of deploying service on more buses in the future. Arterburn says he wouldn’t mind being exposed to more ads as long as they’re not obtrusive and the service doesn’t collect user information.

To access Wi-Fi on the bus, a rider must open an Internet browser on their laptop or wireless mobile device, which will detect the Wi-Fi source. Once the rider has accepted the terms of use, they can access any site by typing in a Web address directly into the Internet browser’s address bar.

The JO believes it is the first transit agency in the four-state area to offer this amenity to passengers, and it hopes it will help attract more riders. Metro buses operated by Kansas City Area Transportation Authority don’t offer Wi-Fi, though the agency is looking into ways to provide this at some point in the future.

For more information about how to use The JO’s onboard Wi-Fi service, and which buses offer it, visit http://www.thejo.com/riders/wifi.shtml.

KC Commuter e-newsletter
November/December 2010

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