Los Angeles County has a significant traffic problem. One way to combat congestion is to increase public transportation use, but L.A. County has seen a steady decline in ridership in recent years–annual ridership is down by nearly 3 million in the past three years.

The local government is launching a pilot program to combat that decline–free Wi-Fi on county buses. Los Angeles County officials are hoping the Wi-Fi will lure riders back to buses by letting commuters stay connected during their ride to work and giving weekend riders a more enjoyable alternative to sitting in traffic or paying for a taxi.

Over the next two weeks the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will equip roughly 150 of its buses with free Wi-Fi for riders. The buses with Wi-Fi will be assigned randomly to various routes across the metro area, though Metro staff will ensure that no geographic area will have more Wi-Fi buses than other areas. Wi-Fi equipped buses will be marked with green decals to let riders know the service is available.

“The pilot program is a chance for Metro staff to see how the Wi-Fi performs in a real-world environment and address any issues that come up,” said MTA spokesman Steve Hymon in a blog post announcing the program. “The benefit to riders is obvious: The Wi-Fi will save you data and provide better Internet connection than you may get from your cell service provider.”

With speed equivalent to 4G LTE, users will be able to do basic Web surfing, but won’t be able to download large files or stream movies. The service is completely free to use and there is no limit on time usage. Additionally, Hymon stressed that while the Wi-Fi will be used to track buses, it will not be able to track individual smartphones.

Once users connect to the Wi-Fi they will have access to three additional features. Users will see a red button on the Wi-Fi networks landing page that allows users to alert Metro security 24/7. A new chat feature will enable users to contact Metro Customer Relations staff with any questions about Metro service. On the landing page users will also see a map with improved real-time arrival times and service alerts.

According to Hymon, Wi-Fi will be installed on another 150 buses later in the year. After the second wave of installations, Wi-Fi will be installed on the agency’s new buses as they come in from the manufacturer.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs