San Antonio’s VIA Metropolitan Transit system had offered 3G Wi-Fi service on select bus lines and park-and-ride stations for some time, but Lorraine Pulido knew the residents of the Texas city wanted more.
“We realized as we’re moving forward it’s becoming more demanding to improve technology,” Pulido, the communications manager for VIA, said.
As a result, VIA Metropolitan Transit and city officials announced in May that they would outfit 463 fixed route buses, 280 paratransit vans, 15 primo buses and 11 transit centers with free 4G Wi-Fi service. After three months of implementing and testing the system, the service was turned on in early September.
“Moving to 4G was something that was really embraced by the public because of the increased necessity for people to be able to do some of their work while on the move.” Pulido told GCN in a telephone interview.
“Our riders have been pushing for a system wide Wi-Fi service for a while,” said Larry Mixon, the acting VP of information technology for VIA Metropolitan Transit. “So we … put a request out and got six bids back.”
VIA eventually chose a company it had worked with in the past. Cradlepoint, a provider of cloud-delivered 4G LTE network solutions, also counts New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority and first responders across the country among its customers.
Adam Rodriguez, Cradlepoint’s territory manager for Texas and one of the people directly involved in the process, said he believed Cradlepoint’s cloud expertise was key.
“One of the biggest reasons we won the contract is our cloud management platform,” Rodriguez said. “If there’s any need to change passwords, access or anything of that nature, they can remotely. Our system allowed them to deploy the routers in an accelerated time frame and manage it with a limited staff.
“If there’s an issue with the router physically, they’ll have to bring the bus in and fix it,” he added, “but most of the issues and technical resolutions can be done by management through our platform with their IT staff.”
The routers being used on each bus and transit center are Cradlepoint’s IBR1100 series, which according to Mixon are made to take the beating that comes with vehicle-mounted deployments.
“The modems are made to work in mass transit under hot conditions and can take bouncing around in a bus all day,” Mixon said.
According to Mixon, it took about month for the modems to be installed on the buses, vans and transit centers and another three months to implement and test them. Verizon is providing the Internet service at speeds of 768k-download and 512k-upload to make sure the bandwidth is shared among all riders.
In order to access the Internet, all passengers have to go through an acceptance page and an information page from the city on their browser.
Although it’s too early to get feedback from the system, Pulido said the public has eagerly anticipated its debut and that the announcement in May has led to a rise in semester metropasses being bought by college students who attend the city’s 31 universities.
“Once the project was approved, it started to spread like wildfire, especially among college students because it’s going to be a level above what was previously offered and it was going to be offered fleetwide and at every transit center,” Pulido said.
“We’ve noticed there’s been a rising interest in student’s buying metropasses and we think there is a correlation between the news about the Wi-Fi service and the increase in the sale of the semester metropass.”
VIA Metropolitan Transit provides public transportation services to 13 cities in the San Antonio area and Bexar County. VIA buses operate seven days a week on 90 bus routes, and last year, VIA provided 44 million rides across the region.