Commentary on transportation in Connecticut and the Northeast by JIM CAMERON, for 19 years a member of the CT Rail Commuter Council.
Jim is also the founder of a new advocacy effort: www.CommuterActionGroup.org
Disclaimer: his comments are only his own. All contents of this blog are (c) Cameron Communications Inc
few weeks ago a friend was showing me his new Chevy Volt. Not only does the hybrid-electric car get 42
mpg, it has its own Wi-Fi hotspot.
That’s right. The car is a Wi-Fi
device, so kids in the backseat can watch YouTube.
But there is no Wi-Fi on
Metro-North. And the railroad says none
is planned, even though the new M8 railcars are ready for the needed gear. And therein lies a story.
Offering Wi-Fi on a moving vehicle
usually involves cellular technology.
That’s how the first airline Wi-Fi was offered by companies like Go-Go,
though JetBlue and Southwest now rely on proprietary satellite systems which are much faster (up to 30 MB
When Amtrak first offered Wi-Fi on its
Acela trains between Washington and Boston, they immediately had bandwidth
issues. So many passengers were using
their cell phones and tablets, speeds dropped to 0.6 mb per second and the complaints came pouring in.
That’s part of the reason that
Metro-North is reluctant to offer Wi-Fi:
if an Acela train carrying 300 passengers can’t handle the online load,
how could a ten-car train carrying a thousand commuters? The railroad has enough complaints as it is.
Pay phone on Japanese train
Metro-North’s experience with on-board
communications has left them feeling burned.
Remember years ago when the railroad installed cellular pay-phones on the
trains? Great idea, until a year later
when costs came down and everyone had their own cell phone. Those pay cell phone booths went unused and
were eventually removed.
Back in 2006 then-President of MNRR
Peter Cannito said Wi-Fi would be built into the new M8
cars, both for
passengers and to allow the railcars to “talk” to HQ by beaming diagnostic
reports. The railroad issued an RFP for
ideas and got a number of responses, including from Cablevision, with whom they
negotiated for many months. They even initiated
on-train testing of Wi-Fi gear on one railcar.
But Metro-North insisted any Wi-Fi
would have to cost the railroad nothing: that all the expense and tech risk would be borne
by Cablevision or its customers. And
that’s where the negotiations deadlocked.
Today the railroad sees Wi-Fi as just
a convenience. Smart phones and
cell-card configured laptops can access the internet just fine, they say, using
cellular technology. But to their credit
the railroad is trying to get cell providers to fill in the coverage gaps, like
in the tunnels and at GCT.
So don’t look for Wi-Fi anytime soon
on America’s biggest and busiest commuter railroad. It’s not seen as a necessity… except perhaps
by its passengers who really have no other transportation option.
the almost two years since Uber rolled into Connecticut, the state’s car/taxi
service business has been rocked to its core.
But is Uber competing on the same level as taxis and car service
companies? Of course not, which is why
it’s so successful.
spoke with Uber’s Connecticut Manager Matt Powers and Drivers
Unlimited (a Darien
car & limo company) owner Randy Klein to try to get an objective comparison
of the services. (Full disclosure: I have been a customer of both firms.)
Uber does offer a “black car” (premium) service, my comparisons are with their
more popular Uber X service… private cars driven by non-chauffeurs, 7000 of
whom have signed up as drivers in CT, according to Powers.
VEHICLES: Car services opt for Lincoln Town Cars and SUV’s. Uber X just requires
drivers have a 4-door
car, less than 10 years old with a trunk big enough to carry a wheelchair.
Klein owns and maintains his own fleet, inspecting all cars weekly. Uber relies on its X drivers to do upkeep.
Klein does his own background checks on top of the DMV screening
required for a CDL (commercial drivers license).
Uber says it does “rigorous” screening of drivers, including terrorist watch lists, but
requires only a regular driver’s license.
Klein’s firm also does random drug testing of his drivers.
Klein has coverage of up to $1.5 million for every driver. Uber relies on the individual driver’s
personal insurance but layers a $1 million policy on top when they are driving
Uber asks drivers and passengers to rate each other after every trip. Klein asks passengers to rate drivers but
says it’s unfair to allow drivers to rate customers. “We’re in a service
business,” he says.
Klein says most of his reservations are made 2-3 weeks in advance. Uber doesn’t do advance bookings, though in
personal experience I’ve never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a car.
Though not an apples-to-apples comparison, an average car service ride
from Darien to LaGuardia Airport is anywhere from $130 - $180, one-way. Uber’s quote for an X car is about $75.
When demand is highest, Uber adds a surcharge to fare quotes, sometimes
doubling the fare. Klein says his rates
are the same 24 x 7.
IF YOU HAVE PROBLEMS:
Klein says his office can be reached anytime by phone, toll-free. Uber’s website offers a template to file
is Uber really a bargain? Let me answer
with a hotel analogy. Sometimes I love
staying at the Ritz Carlton with its plush rooms and fabulous service. Other times, a Motel 6 or LaQuinta is fine,
though there’s always the risk of a “surprise”.
see car services the same way. With a
plush Lincoln SUV and chauffer you get what you pay for. But sometimes all you want is to get from
home to the airport and an Uber X is just fine… and a lot cheaper!