BART says plan will markedly improve cellphone connectivity, WiFi

Photo credit: BART

BART says it has developed a plan that would vastly improve cellular connectivity and WiFi coverage on trains, in stations and in the agency’s public rights of way, while also generating substantial revenue for the transit agency.

On Thursday, the BART Board of Directors will vote on an agreement that’s been in the works for several years between the transit agency and Mobilitie, the nation’s largest private wireless infrastructure firm.

The project would construct WiFi and Bluetooth infrastructure aiming to “drastically reduce” dropped calls and provide reliable connectivity for video and audio streaming and apps in trains and stations, according to BART.

The plan has Mobilitie paying for all capital and operating costs for the project, and making annual licensing revenue payments to BART expected to total more than $243 million over 20 years.

This isn’t the first time BART has entered into a 20-year contract with such a provider. In 2014, the transit agency terminated an agreement struck five years earlier with WiFi Rail, which had begun providing Wifi at SF stations. The company had planned to expand and offer customers hourly, daily and monthly rates for service and a free ad-supported option, according to the East Bay Times. The contract termination led to a lawsuit with WiFi Rail alleging breach of contract by BART.

Under the newly proposed contract with Mobilitie, four projects, all of which could be completed within five years, would be included:

  1. Adding cellular service to three SFMTA (Muni) tunnels: Sunset, Twin Peaks and the new Central Subway (project duration: two years).
  2. Installing new wireless technology, including both WiFi and Bluetooth, in all BART stations, covering both the paid and free areas (project duration: within four years).
  3. Extend the wireless services from stations in the new Fleet of the Future train cars. The project includes wireless transmitters broadcasting a secure signal into train cars and small poles installed along the track to fill coverage gaps. (project duration: within five years).
  4. Installing new revenue-generating commercial fiber optic cable along certain BART and SFTMA rights of way to expand BART’s current fiber optic licensing business, generating additional revenue for both BART and SFMTA.

“This Digital Railway project opens up the potential for BART to offer world class digital communication to our riders and to modernize our business practices in the field,” said Ravi Misra, BART’s Chief Information Officer.

The BART Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, which is open to the public, will take place at 9 a.m. at the Kaiser Center 20th Street Mall, Third Floor, 2040 Webster St. in Oakland.