Experiment with free Wi-Fi on Winnipeg Transit buses could hit stop

A year-long pilot project that saw 12 Winnipeg Transit buses equipped with free Wi-Fi service has come to an end. The experiment found lots of riders use the service and it could provide enhanced safety for passengers and drivers.

Pilot project on 12 buses shows real-time video feeds could enhance emergency responses

Winnipeg Transit will equip its entire bus fleet with modems, but city hall hasn't made a decision on free Wi-Fi on the vehicles. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A year-long pilot project that saw free Wi-Fi installed on a dozen city buses has come to an end.

The project co-ordinators estimate it would cost $1.4 million to $1.9 million per year for a data plan that would allow all of Winnipeg Transit's bus fleet to have free internet access.

The experiment saw between 10,000 and 12,000 riders log into their devices per month and allowed transit to test live video links with the specially equipped buses.

The video links allow transit officials to watch a live feed from a Wi-Fi equipped bus during an emergency situation and dispatch an appropriate response.

The city's acting chief innovation officer says the pilot was "very successful."

"It met all of the objectives that were called out in the original funding request. It proved out the technology … for both operational purposes and also proved out the technology to provide Wi-Fi services for our citizens," Glen Cottick told councillors on the innovation committee Monday.

The pilot project also allowed transit to track the buses on their routes more accurately. The data is being used to make better scheduling decisions.

The results from the experiment also found transit's Peggo fare system could be improved if all the buses in its fleet were Wi-Fi equipped.

The city has budgeted $2 million to equip more than 600 buses in its fleet with modems so it can continue to monitor the vehicles and connect by video in an incident, but there is no current budget to continue or expand the Wi-Fi service for the public.

Transcona councillor Shawn Nason asked Cottick if a private-sector partner has been approached to provide the Wi-Fi for free in return for the analytical data of thousands of transit riders.

Cottick told councillors his department has had discussions with internet service providers, but has received no firm commitment. He said it was worth continuing to pursue those opportunities.

Innovation committee chair John Orlikow says it would be a decision of city council if the government chose to pay for free Wi-Fi on buses.

Mayor Brian Bowman campaigned in 2014 with a promise to have Wi-Fi installed on all city buses.

In an email, a spokesperson for Bowman said "a review of the associated costs will be required before any decisions can be made about activating Wi-Fi access for riders on all buses."


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