Cellphone Service Could Be Coming to Muni Subway Lines - NBC Bay Area
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Cellphone Service Could Be Coming to Muni Subway Lines

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    Dropped calls for San Francisco Municipal Railway riders entering the city's subway system could soon be a thing of the past. Terry McSweeney reports. (Published Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016)

    Dropped calls for San Francisco Municipal Railway riders entering the city's subway system could soon be a thing of the past.

    Plans to bring cellphone service to the Muni Metro subway were announced Wednesday by Supervisor London Breed with San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and BART officials.

    Breed says she's been cutting through the red tape for years, and the plan will, among other things, help riders in the event of an emergency.

    "So cell companies want to do this, and we have a process in place," Breed said. "MTA is working on this, and they also have to pay the fees associated with that. And you know our renters will pay potentially a renter's fee."

    The proposal, which will be presented to the SFMTA board on Tuesday, would contract with BART to expand BART's existing underground cell infrastructure to Muni Metro stations.

    BART has already constructed the country's first underground cellular network that allows multiple carriers to use the same equipment. The network is used by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and Metro PCS.

    The expansion of BART's existing network to Muni is expected to take around 12 to 18 months once agreements are reached with cellular carriers. The carriers are expected to pay the costs of the construction as well as annual licensing fees.

    "Our plan not only improves the rider experience; it will actually make money for Muni," Breed said. "It's truly a win-win."

    Breed called the current situation, where riders cannot check emails or contact employers or family to let them know they are running late, "unfair and very outdated."

    It also presents a safety issue, Breed said.

    "In San Francisco, we are earthquake territory, and anything can happen at any time," she said. "We want to make sure that with the technology that exists that we use it to the best of our ability."

    Nearly 200,000 people ride Muni trains every day, and SFMTA director of transportation Ed Reiskin said they have been asking for cellphone service in the subway "for some time."

    "Providing cell service within the Muni Metro will help improve communications to our Muni riders, can assist in emergency situations, and will give the riding public an additional service they want," Reiskin said.

    Riders say they'll use the service in a variety of ways.

    "Honestly, Muni is often late, and I could use it to let the coworkers know I'm going to be late," said Ramon Sukhai, of San Francisco.

    "I will probably be on social media, honestly. Twitter, texting people, i-Message," Sena Rahimian said.

    But Silvia Lorcato says she won't use the new cell service. She likes a little time unplugged.

    "I am multitasking all the time, so it is my time to just reflect on my day," she said.

    The contract will go to the Board of Supervisors for approval after the SFMTA board vote.

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