CARTA rolling out free Wi-Fi

Passengers climb aboard a CARTA bus at a stop in front of the College of Charleston last week. In October, CARTA will have free Wi-Fi available on many of its buses.

Bus riders soon will have access to free Wi-Fi, a move the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority hopes will entice commuters to at least give public transportation a try.

Wi-Fi will be available Oct. 1 on express and local routes, said CARTA spokesman Daniel Brock. It won’t be available on the DASH trolleys and on smaller neighborhood shuttles, he said. Buses on CARTA’s four express routes will have unlimited Wi-Fi so people can access the Internet on their smartphones, tablets and laptops. And the local routes will have a system that allows Internet access to the first 12 passengers who log on.

Ryan Milner, a communication professor at the College of Charleston, often uses the Route 1 express bus to get to and from his home on James Island.

During the ride now, he uses his phone to catch up with social media. But he welcomed the news that Wi-Fi was on the way so he also can work on his laptop. “It will make being stuck on the James Island connector a little more bearable,” he said.

Charleston City Councilman Mike Seekings, chairman of CARTA’s board, said bus “passengers now have a clear advantage over automobile drivers when it comes to technology and connectivity.” It’s a first for the system and the region, he said.

Seekings said he expects the free Wi-Fi to delight current customers and also get people on the bus for the first time. “That change, in turn, decreases traffic and reduces wear on infrastructure, which benefits everyone,” he said.

Brock said the authority has an arrangement with Verizon to cover the cost of the Wi-Fi. The company will provide the service free for two years in exchange for a “wrap ad” on a bus. In that kind of advertisement, the entire outside of the bus is painted to reflect an advertiser’s message.

Jeff Burns, CARTA’s planning and operations manager, said the free Wi-Fi is helping CARTA catch up with other places in the country that have more technology available on buses.

CARTA already has an online bus tracker, where people can use the Internet to learn when a bus will arrive at a particular stop. There isn’t a mobile app available for the tracker, but people can place an icon for it on their smartphones.

The authority is looking into other technologies, such as an app that allows passengers to flash their phones to pay a fare and an “audible stop annunciation” system, where a recorded voice announces the next stop. “Today we use the driver to do that,” Burns said.

Brock said the Wi-Fi service will be especially useful for people who want to get work done on the way to and from their jobs. CARTA provides more than 15,000 trips each weekday, and 60 percent of those are commuter rides, he said.

Jen Jones, who works in the College of Charleston’s Office of Sustainability, said she takes the express bus to North Charleston every day. And she would continue to take the bus even if it didn’t have Wi-Fi. “But it’s a nice perk,” she said. “I would use it.”

Reach Diane Knich at (843) 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknch.