Government Technology

King County: Metro Bus Riders Test County's First Rolling WiFi Hotspots



September 19, 2005 By

King County Executive Ron Sims and Metro Transit officials recently launched a pilot effort to turn transit buses into rolling WiFi hotspots. The first two buses on routes 48 and 197 began offering wireless Internet access to passengers who had laptops or WiFi-enabled devices.

"The rapid development of wireless technology right here in King County provides us with real-world applications we could have never imagined just a few years ago," Sims said. "But in order for this technology to change the way we actually live and travel, we need the public-private partnerships to make it happen. Today I'm announcing that Metro and Junxion, Inc., a Seattle-based mobile connection provider, are doing just that. Over the next several months, they will work together to explore the limits of providing wireless Internet service on Metro buses. The lessons they learn with the help of Metro passengers will no-doubt make King County a nationwide leader in pioneering this new technology."

The two routes serve the University of Washington and communities such as Loyal Heights, Columbia City and Rainier Beach in Seattle and Kent-Des Moines, Star Lake and Federal Way via Interstate-5. Later this fall, Sound Transit will join the partnership by equipping selected buses serving the Route 545 between Redmond and downtown Seattle. The pilot project will run through Metro's February service change.

Metro is installing small Junxion mobile connection boxes on 29 buses serving the two transit routes. Once installed, the boxes will be outfitted with a cellular air card that will allow passengers to power-up their laptop computers or WiFi-enabled devices and access the Internet.

Transit routes chosen for the pilot project represent a mix of both urban and suburban service.

In addition to passengers bound for the University of Washington, riders using the three designated routes in north, east and south areas of the county will also have an opportunity to try out the WiFi service and tell Metro and Sound Transit what they think. User instructions explaining how to log-on will be available on each participating coach.

Metro estimates the WiFi service will be able to serve multiple connections at any given time. However, some laptop configurations and factors such as number of onboard users, signal strength and amount of data being downloaded could all have a bearing on Internet service and speed.

Metro will be closely monitoring the pilot program during the next five months and will be relying on passengers for ongoing feedback on service and performance. In addition to filling out online surveys, passengers will be invited to participate in a more detailed survey about their user experiences prior to the end of the program. Metro will also be looking at ridership trends, cost, technical performance and other service considerations as part of its review. The information gathered during the pilot will determine how and where Metro and other transit agencies may be able to successfully use WiFi technology on transit routes in future years.

This pilot complements another wireless hotspot the county's Department of Natural Resources and Parks launched earlier this summer at Marymoor Park in Redmond. Marymoor is one of the largest parks in the nation to offer free WiFi service.

Watch a video report of the "WiFi Bus" debut.

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