Pierce Transit security upgrades come with bonus for riders — free Wi-Fi

Bus riders give thumbs up to free Wi-Fi plan

Passengers react positively to Pierce Transit's plan to add free Wi-Fi to the agency's 140 local fixed-route buses by year's end.
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Passengers react positively to Pierce Transit's plan to add free Wi-Fi to the agency's 140 local fixed-route buses by year's end.

An offshoot of improved security systems on Pierce Transit buses is likely to make riders who live and die by internet access happy.

By the end of the year, all of the agency’s 140 local fixed-route buses should have continuous Wi-Fi on board, Pierce Transit spokeswoman Rebecca Japhet said last week.

“This is going to be a reliable system for our customers,” Japhet said. “It’s an added bonus. Everybody uses their phone on the bus.”

The Wi-Fi comes courtesy of a $265,000 upgrade to security-camera systems installed on the agency’s local fleet last year.

This is going to be a reliable system for our customers. It’s an added bonus. Everybody uses their phone on the bus.

Rebecca Japhet, Pierce Transit spokeswoman

The most recent outlay, which the Pierce Transit board of directors approved earlier this month, will buy new routers that will improve that system, according to a report prepared for the board.

The current routers allow first responders a “live look-in” function, but it works only if the person doing the looking is within 250 feet of the bus in a specially equipped vehicle, the report states.

“In some situations, this distance could put the first responder in harm’s way,” according to the report.

Downloading video from the cameras also is clunky using the current routers, Japhet said.

“The proposed enhancement will allow first responders the ability to log into a bus from anywhere there is cellular coverage,” according to the report.

“That’s a good safety bonus,” Japhet added.

The report went on: “In addition, this proposed cellular system is expected to improve the uploading performance of the existing camera system.”

And then there’s the Wi-Fi.

$265,000Cost to upgrade security cameras on Pierce Transit buses, which also would bring Wi-Fi

Japhet said customers have not been clamoring for the option, but the agency is happy to provide it.

The report to the board called the addition a way to “improve customer experience by allowing them to have the ability to perform smart phone functions such as surfing the web, paying bills remotely, catching up on social media, checking the traffic report or watching the news.”

Tacoma resident William Peterson said he was excited about the prospect of using Wi-Fi during his bus commute around town.

“It’s definitely a service I’m going to use,” said Peterson, 45, who took a break from his phone to talk to a reporter last week at the Tacoma Community College transit center. “When it goes full-time, most likely I’m going to bring my laptop or my tablet with me as well as my cell phone.”

Sound Transit, which runs Link light rail, Sounder commuter trains and express buses across the region, offers limited Wi-Fi, said Kimberly Reason, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Most Sounder trains have Wi-Fi capability, Reason said, and the agency plans to roll out cellular service in its tunnels running from downtown Seattle to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington later this year.

None of the agency’s express buses has Wi-Fi, she said.

A recent report by the transit-advocacy group TransitCenter found that Wi-Fi wasn’t really that important to most riders.

“The two most important determinants of rider satisfaction with transit are service frequency and travel time,” the group said on its website. “On the other hand, power outlets and Wi-Fi were rated the least important items out of a list of 12 potential service improvements.”

TransitCenter drew its conclusions after working with three focus groups and surveying 3,000 people in 17 metropolitan areas across the country.

Japhet said Pierce Transit riders express similar opinions.

“More frequency of service and increased span of service are what they want mostly,” she said.

Pierce Transit intends to start delivering that later this year when it embarks on an effort to add back 54,000 service hours it was forced to cut during the Great Recession.

“I feel like we’re on track to give them what they want,” Japhet said.

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