A plan to wire underground subway stations for cell phones is moving forward and the MTA has announced which stations would be first to get service. NY1 transit reporter Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
Cell phone use on trains is already a fact of life above-ground. But now, for the first time ever, the MTA is wiring underground stations, a move applauded by even some of the agency's harshest critics.
"People in general would like to be connected, even when they're in the subways,” said Councilman John Liu. “So this is a good thing that the MTA is finally going about getting cell service in the subway system."
Liu co-chaired a hearing Thursday, at which the MTA confirmed which six stations will be wired first, all of them within a few blocks of each other.
A/C/E lines — 14th Street and 23rd Street stations;
L line -- Eighth Avenue and Sixth Avenue stations;
1/2/3 lines — 14th Street station;
F and V — 14th Street station.
Even after the subway stations are wired, though, the wireless carriers must still sign on in order to provide service. Under the MTA's contract, at least one major carrier must sign on within the first two years in order for the project to move forward.
Signing up those carriers is the responsibility of Transit Wireless, the private consortium of technology companies doing the installation work. Already, Transit Wireless says, it's in discussions with several major carries, but if none of them comes onboard, the entire project could be in jeopardy.
"In that event, we'd be back to the drawing board,” MTA Deputy General Counsel Jerome Page said at Thursday’s hearing.
Even if all goes as planned, it will take up to six years to wire all 277 underground stations, and there will be coverage only in the stations themselves, not in subway tunnels. And installation work will disrupt some service.
"It might take place over the overnight period. Trains would probably still run, but they might run at a slower speed. There might be some instances where installations might have to cross tracks, for example, where we might have to put in place diversions of service and reroute trains,” said NYC Transit Program Manager Mark Bienstock.
Under the terms of the deal with Transit Wireless, the MTA isn't paying a dime to wire the stations. In fact, the agency will make at least $47 million in the deal.
— Bobby Cuza