The MBTA hopes to upgrade the free wireless Internet service that is broadcast on most of its commuter rail trains and to add the service to the rest of its commuter rail fleet, its commuter boats ferry terminals and inside three key rail stations – South Station, North Station and Back Bay Station.
The T this week began soliciting proposals from outside companies, which would install, operate and sponsor the Wi-Fi service at no cost to the T or riders.
Under the new system, the T would push all operating costs to the new vendor, saving an estimated $500,000 it spends annually on the current system. The T would also receive a licensing fee of at least $1 million.
In exchange, the Wi-Fi provider would receive benefits, including controlling an initial web page that would load when users connect to the service, as well as decals and signs and other marketing materials around stations and on rail cars that advertise the sponsoring company.
The transit agency said in its request for proposals that it wants “to replace, expand and improve both the availability and the quality of the current Wi-Fi service on the commuter rail to state of the art standards thereby enhancing ridership experience throughout the system.”
“The service should be easy to use, ubiquitous, continuous, secure and free to its riders,” the agency said in its request for proposals from bidders.
The MBTA hopes to have a new system selected and to begin installation in the fall. The service would be rolled out in phases. officials said. The T hopes the project would be completed about six to eight months after work starts, state transportation department spokeswoman Kelly Smith said.
“We are always looking for ways to bring our customers better service,” MBTA general manager Beverly Scott said in a statement. “The opportunity to have sponsorship of our Wi-Fi service will aid in our goal of bringing a high-quality Wi-Fi experience to our customers throughout the commuter rail system without the MBTA or our riders incurring any cost for it. It really is a win-win.”
The T launched Wi-Fi service in 2008, piloting the program first on trains on the Framingham-Worcester commuter rail line, the RFP said. Since then, the wireless Internet service has been installed on 258 of the T’s 410 passenger rail coaches.
Currently, AT&T runs the service that T officials estimate is used by between 40,000 and 60,000 riders each business day, according to the RFP.