By Darren McRoy
Should Metra get Wi-Fi? Even if it’s expensive and hard to implement and maintain?
The commuter-rail network is considering the possibility, the Chicago Tribune and other news agencies report, but price and technology continue to be two major barriers, despite that a DePaul University report shows 48 percent of Metra riders use personal electronic devices during their commutes.
According to the paper, it could cost over $70 million to install wireless internet on all 11 Metra lines over five years—though some of that could perhaps be recouped by paid plans or sponsorships—and there’s a fear that the technology might quickly become obsolete or go unused by customers who prefer other connectivity, like smart-phone hotspots or air-cards.
"(Wi-Fi) would be awesome," Wendy Tripoli, a rider who commutes to the city from Crystal Lake, told the paper. "You're sitting there for an hour and a half. People are always on their laptops and iPads. It would make the trip more bearable."
But the Daily Herald quoted Metra Board members expressing trepidation at the price, with Director Mike McCoy saying he was “taken aback” and Director William Widmer saying the $70+ million estimate “brings out the Luddite in me.”
Several options are still being floated, the Chicago Sun-Times reports, including perhaps adding aircard plug-ins to monthly-fare packages at a cost of about $40 per month.
If a test Wi-Fi program is put into place, according to the Tribune, the most likely line would be Rock Island, which runs to Joliet, because the line’s length would mean more likely users.
The topic is up for further discussion this Friday, the paper said.
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