Subway Service: A Blessing Or A Curse? : Blog Of The Nation Look out New Yorkers and tourists in the Big Apple -- the MTA is looking to bring cell phone and WiFi service to the subways. But will opening the electronic floodgates underground do more harmthan good?
NPR logo Subway Service: A Blessing Or A Curse?

Subway Service: A Blessing Or A Curse?

And by service, I mean cell phone and WiFi service. Yup. Look out, New York City, says Transit Wireless:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board today approved an agreement with Transit Wireless LLC, a consortium set to equip the 277 underground New York City subway stations for cell phone and wireless Internet service.

Wireless voice and data communication will improve safety for commuters, transit workers and emergency responders; provide critical information in case of emergencies and added convenience for straphangers who can use cell phones, computers and other devices.

So, for those who are tired of missing calls from loved ones and coworkers, the problem will be solved soon enough -- but not this year. "Why so long?" you might ask? John Timmer explains that it will take "two years to set up technology testing sites...another four years will be allotted to hook up the rest...":

The program has focused on providing service at the platforms but the structure of the subway will apparently allow the signals to propagate for a significant distance out into the tunnels. Provided the tunnels are wide enough and the stations are packed close enough together, it’s possible that some commutes will enjoy uninterrupted service. Those commuters that are on lines where there’s only a single tunnel for each direction may end up being digital have-nots.

During my time spent here in D.C., I haven't noticed a proliferation of constant one-sided jabber, even with some cell phone companies allowing their consumers to use their cell phones underground. (The first rumor I heard two years ago was that Verizon set up a deal with WMATA. No wonder my friends get reception!)

And sure, you have the occasional iPad user or laptop fiend typing away on some sort of report.

But Timmer is somewhat weary of the new addition:

There will certainly be times when a quick text will be incredibly convenient, and a phone call could make a big difference for those stuck in a station by a mechanical failure. But the subways have always provided an escape from the loud, one-sided conversations that tend to dominate the city’s streets (often accompanied by gesticulations that threaten fellow pedestrians), and I’m sure I’ll be among those wishing for a return to peace and quiet on occasion.

It’s also quite possible that many of the callers will miss having an excuse to end conversations with, “Sorry, the train’s about to go underground.”

Think I'll keep milking that line until I get called out on it.