“We are listening to our customers’ ideas about ways to improve their experience riding Metro,” General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a statement.
When users sign on to the WiFi network, they’ll be taken to a landing page where they’ll be able to access a test version of Metro’s “Where’s My Train?” feature, with an interactive map showing real-time information on train locations and arrival time predictions.
But the free WiFi isn’t just an effort to score points with customers. Last year, federal officials sought to to expedite efforts to bring wireless service into the subway tunnels, saying it was a “glaring safety problem” that passengers had no means of calling 911 in the event of an emergency on a train — especially in the aftermath of the January 2015 Yellow Line smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza.
“Quite simply, when D.C. Metro riders — often the first to see a problem developing — try to notify first responders, they frequently are unable to receive a signal strong enough to make a simple call to 9-1-1 to report the emergency,” wrote Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly last October in a letter to the Federal Transit Administration.
“Respectfully,” he added, “I implore you to consider that passengers and workers using their own wireless devices throughout the tunnels and stations to convey critical real-time information in emergency situations are the first line of safety.”
Last year, Metro officials struck a deal with Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile to bring cell service to all the subway tunnels by the end of the decade.
Metro’s new WiFi pilot will only serve the stations, not the tunnels between them — but it’s a start.
From Metro’s statement: “Metro customers are encouraged to submit their feedback at the bottom of the home page. The information will be used to assess the pilot with the objective of deploying Wi-Fi at all 91 Metrorail stations in the future.”