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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Commuter rail to get free Wi-Fi; cell service added in some T stations

     Omnipresent Dentyne ads and the footwear of nearby strangers are no longer the only sources of amusement for the bookless during the routine Boston commute. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has delivered and plans to expand a technological addition to MBTA commuter rail trains: free wireless Internet service. While the free Wi-Fi service is restricted to commuter rails, customers of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless are currently able to get service in the Downtown Crossing, Park Street, Government Center and State Street Stations and some of the tunnels, according to an MBTA press release.
    The goal of the free Wi-Fi on commuter rail trains, according to Kris Erickson, the MBTA's deputy chief of staff, is to boost ridership and draw commuters away from driving.
    "The idea behind it was … passenger enhancement," Erickson said. "We're trying to compete with getting riders to take the train instead of driving in, and … giving them free Wi-Fi will obviously attract some new riders."
    The MBTA piloted the Wi-Fi service on the Framingham/Worcester line in January with resoundingly positive results.
    "Of all the programs that we've done for the last several years ... this has been by far and away the most well-received," Erickson said. "We still get e-mails in from the Framingham/Worcester line pilot that's been up and running on how great the service is, and riders have been very appreciative."
    Erickson said that due to the success of the initial installment, the MBTA plans to expand the project to more commuter rail cars this coming winter.
    "It should be substantially complete by late spring, with installations beginning in December," he said.
    While the addition of wireless Internet to the commuter rails might encourage some to ride frequently, Erickson admitted that the service isn't the fastest around.
     "[The service] is definitely not high speed," he said. "We have wireless routers on trains that get the cellular service, so they can turn that cellular service into Wi-Fi, so [the speed] is around one [MB]."
    Erickson predicted that the main benefactors of the service would be office commuters to Boston, but many Tufts students also said they would likely use the service on a smaller scale. Still, several opt for an e-mail check-up via an Internet-capable phone on the T rather than a laptop during a long commute.
    "I'd probably use my iPod Touch that has a wireless Internet in it, but I [probably wouldn't] take out my laptop to use," senior Eran Filiba said.
    Some students predict that the new Wi-Fi service will encourage passengers to be on their laptops rather than interacting with other people, thus warping the social atmosphere of public transportation.
    "Now people will read newspapers, but you also look at people and kind of study them because there's not that much to do," senior Danielle Damm said. "People are in their own world so much of the day already — bringing [Wi-Fi] onto the T is going to change the experience."
    According to sophomore Jason Roos, the more subtle quirks of train travel could be lost.
    "You wouldn't get to see as many interesting things happening," he said. "A lot of very eccentric people get on the T, and when everyone's trying to go where they're trying to go … you can see really priceless interactions between people."
    Other students felt that advancements in Wi-Fi and cell phone access are already detracting from human interaction, and that strangers on the T rarely interact in the first place.
    "People have been on their laptops and on their mobile devices lately so … I don't think that it will change the culture on the T," senior Eren Bucak said. "It has more to do with the age of information technology rather than the T itself."      "I don't think people interact that much anyway unless they're with you," junior Nadir Butt said.
  In an age when every middle-school teeny-bopper is shackled to a cell phone and countless professionals would sooner maroon themselves on an island than survive a day without a BlackBerry, cell phone access on the T may simply be yet another move toward a wired world.
"I think it gets slightly out of hand," Butt said. "Especially with people who have Blackberries, or something like that, it's not like they own the phone anymore. It's like the phone owns them."
    The key to surviving the age of information may rest in moderation.
    "I think it's a good thing that people are … trying to get their information quick and easy … but at the same time, I feel like sometimes it does overturn people's                      lives," Bucak said. "So [there needs to be] a happy medium, I guess — find the happy medium."


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