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NY1 Exclusive: Two Years Later, Subway Cell Service Plan Still On Hold

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TWC News: NY1 Exclusive: Two Years Later, Subway Cell Service Plan Still On Hold
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Nearly two years after the MTA first announced plans to expand cell phone coverage in the subways, an official go-ahead is still on hold as the agency struggles to iron out a new timeline with the project's contractor. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.

When the MTA first approved a deal for cell phone service in September of 2007, it said six Manhattan stations would be wired within two years. But now with that deadline just a few months away, not only are none of those stations wired, installation work has not even begun. That's because the MTA never gave the contractor the official go-ahead, or Notice To Proceed.

"This doesn't even seem like they have to go back to square one. It sounds like they never left the drawing board to begin with," said City Councilman John Liu.

When Liu held a hearing in October 2007, MTA officials said they expected the Notice To Proceed would be issued within two months.
But the MTA now says the contractor, a consortium of companies called Transit Wireless, never met the required conditions, which included demonstrating sufficient financing. Transit Wireless had no comment but the MTA acknowledged the group was hindered by the economic downturn.

"Unfortunately, the private sector response now to it, given the economy, has caused that to be stalled, not surprising. Again, just because of the overall economy," said Former MTA Executive Director & CEO Lee Sander. "So the capacity is there, and hopefully the market will come back, and we will have that pilot move forward."

In a statement released Thursday, the MTA said, "We continue to work with the contractor and hope that a resolution can be reached in the near future. The MTA remains committed to providing cellular service in underground subway stations."

The agency, however, did not provide a new timetable.

While cell phones are already a way of life on the above-ground parts of the system, the project would have wired all 277 underground stations over six years, starting with the 14th and 23rd Street stations on the A, C, and E lines; the 6th Avenue and 8th Avenue on the L train; 14th Street on the 1, 2, and 3 lines; and 14th Street on the F and V lines.

The MTA can't lose any money on the project, since the contractor is responsible for all the installation costs. But in the long run, the MTA was actually supposed to make money on the project, with the contractor paying millions of dollars a year for the right to operate the network.

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