MARTA on Thursday announced it would pilot free Wi-Fi on buses, with a goal to have internet connectivity on both buses and trains by next March.
Within the next few weeks, wireless internet access will be available on 50 buses with routes evenly distributed throughout the service area. MARTA is able to provide the service at no cost to riders or to the transit agency by tapping unused bandwidth from a 4G surveillance camera system that was installed on all of its bus fleet over the past two and a half years.
While customers won't be able to stream content from video services like Hulu or YouTube, they will be able to do "light surfing" of the internet and check emails, said Ming Hsi, the Chief Information Officer of MARTA. During the 60-day trial period, customers are encouraged to submit feedback to www.itsmarta.com/wifi.
Also on Thursday, MARTA announced a new partnership with Uber. Users who are new to Uber can sign up with the promotional code "MARTA" to enjoy a first free trip, up to a $20 value. The partnership is aimed at encouraging transit users to take advantage of Uber for the first and last miles of their trip between a station and home or work.
"We don't go everywhere,"said MARTA CEO Keith Parker. "There are places that don't make sense for us to add new bus or train service. This Uber partnership is to take care of that last mile of service."
Parker said that lower gasoline prices that have prevailed since last fall have slowed ridership gains as driving became more economical.
"What we have to do now is be even more creative, innovative and aggressive about holding onto our existing customers while attracting new people," Parker said. "That’s why you’re seeing everything from Wi-Fi on the buses to mobile phone payments to new fresh markets."
MARTA does not yet have a mobile phone payment system in place, but plans are under way to select a vendor. Soon, customers will also be able to make phone calls on the trains even while underground, Parker said.