Wi-Fi coming to some transbay buses 

Commuters coming into San Francisco from the East Bay will be able to use their laptops and other electronic devices to surf the Internet on AC Transit’s green transbay buses starting next month, according to agency officials.

Approximately 11,000 passengers daily take a transbay bus to travel across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, Dumbarton Bridge or the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, according to the agency, an increase of about 1,000 riders from 2004. AC Transit is hoping to attract even more passengers with the free Internet service.

The AC Transit free wireless program will be the first for a public transportation agency that travels to or within San Francisco. Caltrain has a wireless project in the works, as does the Golden Gate ferry system. BART, which also has Wi-Fi plans for the future, has a high-speed cellular phone and Internet signal available in its downtown San Francisco stations, usable to passengers who have a paid mobile service.

"The City is going Wi-Fi," Muni spokesperson Maggie Lynch said, referring to a plan to provide wireless Internet access before San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. "It would be redundant for us to go at it on our own."

The free Internet service will only be available on AC Transit’s approximately 78 green motorcoaches, the buses with cushioned seats and individual seat lights used for the crossbay lines.

The wireless routers and antennas needed to provide the Internet service will also be installed on 10 of the regular white and green buses that run across the Dumbarton Bridge, according to Kathleen Kelly, AC Transit’s chief transportation officer.

Some of the buses will be hooked up with the new technology by the end of the month, with all of the green transbay buses ready to roll with free Wi-Fi by the end of April, according to Victoria Wake, a marketing manager for the agency.

The equipment and installation cost for all 88 buses is $138,000, Kelly said. On-going access fees will be about $60 per bus, she added.

Transbay passenger Mark Troup, a paralegal who travels from Berkeley to a downtown San Francisco law firm, said he believes free wireless service will not only attract new riders but also please existing passengers. "I don’t have a laptop, but every day on the bus about one-third [of passengers] are on their computers," he said.

In order to improve transbay service and attract more passengers, AC Transit is also adding more supervisors to keep watch over the bus arrival and departure times from San Francisco’s transbay terminal, having more standby buses, and has plans to put up electronic signs in the terminal to inform passengers about traffic problems that slow up service.

There is one frustration with the transbay service that agency officials say would be difficult to fix.

"If we could make traffic on the bridge disappear, believe me, we’d do it," AC Transit Supervisor Greg Hunter said at a meeting of the transbay task force this week.

beslinger@examiner.com

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Bonnie Eslinger

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