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Spinning our Wheels

Spinning our Wheels is a commuting blog about the challenges of getting around Atlanta by car, bus, MARTA, bicycles and on foot written by transportation reporter David Wickert

MARTA pursuing cell and Wi-Fi service in stations, tunnels

MARTA is on the verge of approving a contract with a provider to install cell phone and Wi-Fi access in its stations and tunnels.

If all goes as planned, a six-month pilot project would start in January with three stations -- Five Points, Peachtree Center and Georgia Dome/Georgia World Congress Center and inside a tunnel that connects them. All 38 stations would feature cellular connectivity and Wi-Fi access by July 2018. The $25 million system would be designed, installed and maintained at no cost to MARTA.

In fact, the transit agency would profit from the deal.

MARTA would get $1 million up front by signing the contract prior to construction. After the vendor signs up cellular carriers, it would provide MARTA with a 55 percent profit share for the first 10 years and 60 percent for the next decade.

The profit-sharing agreement could bring in as much as $10 million in revenue to MARTA in the first decade and almost double that amount in years 11 through 20, according to the vendor's estimates. However, MARTA officials acknowledge those projections may be rosy and said they aren't counting on getting that large of a return.

MARTA Chief Information Officer Ming Hsi presented details of the preferred vendor agreement to its board at a work session Thursday. The MARTA board is set to vote on the contract sometime within the next month.

"Cool, cool, cool, cool, in every way," is how MARTA CEO Keith Parker described the deal. "We were assuming it would cost us several million dollars a year. And instead, our IT was able to pull together with the finance and procurement group to structure a deal that has the provider paying us for the privilege."

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