- The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has expanded the number of subway stations offering free Wi-Fi.
- All downtown Red Line and Blue Line platforms now have Wi-Fi. Adding service at the 18 stations cost $1 million.
- CTA first added public Wi-Fi in January, at one station, with the intention for expansion throughout the year.
Most of Chicago's train system is elevated — hence its nickname, the "L" — but all of the locations that are newly equipped with Wi-Fi are underground subway stations. The city boasts it was the first in the country to fully equip its subway lines with 4G wireless service. That project was completed in 2015 at no cost to CTA and transit customers; the $32.5 million upgrade was funded by the four major wireless service providers: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. The elevated lines were not included in the project, as they already have access to wireless service.
Providing connectivity for customers is one of the projects at the forefront of transit agencies' agendas over the past several years. Above-ground lines are easier targets while underground lines generally take longer to receive service. Washington, DC's transit agency began testing free Wi-Fi in six subway stations in 2016 and New York's agency completed connecting its nearly 300 underground stations to Wi-Fi and cellular service in 2017.
Customers increasingly want convenience and keeping their connectivity while riding all forms of transit fits that bill. During a time when transit ridership is lagging, extra features such as connectivity are viewed as benefits that have the potential to boost ridership.
But transit system connectivity isn't merely beneficial for riders wanting to surf the internet or stream entertaining videos. It can turn a bus or train into a mobile office and allow commuters to work while traveling. That creates a benefit to commuting via transit versus driving. Underground connectivity also acts as a safety feature so passengers can connect with 911 during an emergency.
The subway station Wi-Fi is the latest in Chicago's investments in digital infrastructure for the transit system. Early last year it began upgrades to transit system security cameras, employee-controlled video monitors and lighting. In the fall, CTA announced it would begin testing digital information screens in some of its buses.