Subway riders who clutch their phones throughout underground commutes may want more than just music to listen to -- maybe to check email or even make a call.
But these days for every subway rider are far off, an MTA representative told the City Council yesterday -- 72 months away, in fact.
Craig Stewart, senior corporate management officer of the MTA, briefed members of the City Council on Wednesday about ways to bring more technology to the city's transportation lines, from countdown clocks to train updates.
One initiative that is ever-so-slowly on the rise is wi-fi access in subway stations.
Stewart told the Council that AT&T and T-Mobile service kicked off in six stations in August.
Next up? The remaining 271 underground stations, to be completed within 72 months from that date.
They promise 30 stations within two years, Stewart said.
The project aims to set up wireless access only in stations, not in the tunnels between stations.
Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign told Metro wi-fi is an amenity that a lot of people want, young riders in particular, but he is cautious about potentially annoying consequences like yakking fellow riders.
"We wouldn't support wiring the tunnels so people could be acting on trains the way they do on the LIRR and Metro-North," Russianoff said.
Council members peppered the MTA representatives with requests for concrete deadlines for several projects, lamenting that many details were unclear.
"It's like we're always five years behind," Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera said.
More iPhone thefts?
Some Council members expressed security concerns that wireless access would lend itself to increased cell phone use at a time when cell phone snatching appears to be on the rise.
The MTA assured Council members that they are working in collaboration with the NYPD to install more cameras in "around 140" out of a total of 460 stations.
Which stations are online?
C, E @ 23rd St
A, C, E @ 14th St
L @ 8th Ave
1, 2, 3 @ 14th St
F, M @ 14th St
L @ 6th Ave
How does NYC compare?
San Francisco: SF's BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) offers "a mostly continuous mobile signal … on your wireless phone from Balboa Park into downtown SF, through the Transbay Tube and all throughout the Oakland underground," according to their website.
Philadelphia: A media official at SEPTA in Philadelphia says Philly has wireless in their five transit hubs in the center of the city, which has been available for a little over two years.
Chicago: A CTA media rep said that Chicago riders already have 3G access underground, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel called in July for Wi-Fi in all tunnels.
Washington, D.C.: Cell service providers have been setting up service for transit riders in D.C. for the past three years. The first 20 stations were enabled in 2009, and they expect to have all 86 in a matter of months.
Boston: The MBTA currently has internet access by service carriers in 26 stations and 13.1 miles of tunnel.