Should a transit agency spend public money to provide Wi-Fi for bus riders?
The south suburban Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) thinks so.
As a test of demand for the service, the MVTA in September 2013 equipped five buses serving local and express routes and two transit stations, one in Burnsville and one in Eagan, with public Wi-Fi devices.
The agency spent $6,600 on the service.
“During the course of the demonstration project, staff has continually measured rider interest and usage of the Wi-Fi access. This includes enlisting customer feedback and monitoring usage statistics,” a staff memo said.
Between Feb. 18 and March 18, about 61 percent of the use of the Wi-Fi was by riders while they were riding and 39 percent of the usage was recorded at stations.
During that month, riders used 14 GB of data: 8.5 while riding and 5.5 while waiting at stations.
The MVTA considers that “a significant amount of customer activity on the Wi-Fi access system.”
“MVTA’s riders are getting substantial benefit when riding a MVTA bus or waiting at a transit station,’’ the memo said.
One MVTA board member said data use was interesting but wondered how many individual riders have been using the service. The transit agency does not know.
Another board member asked what kind of devices people were using to access the Wi-Fi — computers or phones? If phones, she said, most people already have their own connections to the Internet.
To that, a staff member replied that people use MVTA service to reduce the use of their own data accounts.
The agency has gotten positive comments from riders, such as: “I really like it for sending e-mails on the way to and from work” and “I love having Wi-Fi on the bus … It allows me to be productive during my commutes.”
Up next: “A review of how to expand Wi-Fi access to more routes and transit stations.” The MVTA board will begin to explore what that might cost.