Starting this fall, subway riders will be able to surf the Web, send text messages, and make phone calls while they wait for the 1, 2, and 3 trains at subway platforms between 96th Street and Columbus Circle.
Cell phone and mobile Internet service are coming to the Upper West Side as part of a larger Metropolitan Transportation Authority initiative to provide service to all 271 underground stations in New York City in the next four years. The first phase of the seven-phase project will bring service to 30 stations in the Upper West Side and Midtown, some stations as early as October.
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said that higher ridership at certain stations factored into the decision of which stations to include in the first phase. Midtown and Upper West Side subway stops average 7.1 million passengers per station annually, Ortiz said.
Currently, stations at 23rd Street and along the 14th Street corridor are wired for cell phone and mobile Internet service by AT&T and T-Mobile, and temporarily for universal Wi-Fi—across all service providers—by Google, which is participating as a sponsor. Ortiz said that universal Wi-Fi is “an entirely different component that may or may not be coming online” on the Upper West Side.
“Where that will play into the additional 30 stations remains to be seen,” he said. “Currently it will be only cell phone and data services.”
The cost of the entire citywide project, which has been estimated at $200 million, is being paid by contractor Transit Wireless, which will split revenues with the MTA.
Elida Martinez-Gaynor, a Barnard academic counselor who was waiting for a train to arrive at the 96th Street platform on Wednesday afternoon, said that the lack of Internet service in subway stations has prevented her from being able to make important calls.
“I think all the stations should have free Wi-Fi, because people need their phones for all sorts of emergencies,” she said.
Alfredo Hernandez, a college student, was waiting for someone to meet him on the platform on Wednesday. With Internet access, he said, he’d “be able to use Facebook to contact her.”
“It’ll be a cheaper way of contacting people instead of using my minutes,” Hernandez said.
According to David King, a professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, most U.S. transit systems are aboveground and therefore haven’t had to deal with mobile connectivity problems. King said that while cell phone and mobile Internet service would be a nice amenity for travelers waiting on subway platforms, some people might not notice the change.
“Part of it is how pervasive phones have become,” he said. “We expect to always have access to them and access to what they can do. It’ll make people feel better. But most people are rushing in as the train is leaving, so it won’t make that big a difference.”
Avantika Kumar contributed reporting.