Welcome to the 21 Century, Toronto — sort of.
Riders on the country’s busiest subway system can now use free, ad-supported WiFi at the two busiest transfer stations, Bloor-Yonge and St. George.
But for the time being, riders still won’t be able to make phone calls, because the company setting up the WiFi hasn’t been able to find a partner among Canada’s wireless companies.
“We are pleased to offer this service to our riders while generating substantial revenue to the TTC, which will help fund continued service improvements,” TTC chairperson Karen Stintz said in a statement.
BAI Canada has signed a $25-million, 20-year contract with the Toronto Transit Commission to fit out subway stations with wireless data access, and though the service is launching at just two stations, the company aims to expand it network, dubbed TCONNECT, to all 65 existing and planned stations.
About one-quarter of the TTC’s 2.76 million daily ridership passes through the two transfer stations where the WiFi is being launched.
WiFi will be available at the station platforms and ticket areas, but not in the subway tunnels. No word yet on when that will happen, but a press statement from BAI and the TTC describes that as “the next phase” of the WiFi rollout.
The Huffington Post Canada, through parent company AOL Canada, is involved as a partner in the project. WiFi users who log on in the subways will see news stories from HuffPost, as well as advertising from Mondelez Canada, which owns brands such as Dentyne gum, Oreo cookies and Cadbury chocolate.
But making phone calls could be a long way off yet. BAI is still in negotiations with wireless carriers to bring voice calls into the subways, but has failed so far to find a partner, Global News reports.
It may be that Canada’s wireless companies simply want the TTC contract for themselves, BAI Canada CEO Brian Jacks told the National Post in August.
The Big Three carriers -- Bell, Rogers and Telus -- "would love nothing more than to build it themselves,” Jacks said. “But I’m not sure they’ve accepted the fact that we’ve actually won the license here.”
All the same, Toronto joins a growing list of cities that are equipping their underground rail network with WiFi. New York City announced plans to equip 30 stations with WiFi earlier this year, with an eye to fitting out the entire subway network.
London and Paris both launched WiFi projects last year. Like in Toronto, WiFi in those cities is available at stations only, for the time being.
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