Call to put free Wi-Fi on Dublin buses and trains

22 Sep 2010

Last week, the Spanish capital of Madrid became the world’s first city to put free Wi-Fi on the city’s buses. However, according to a business group, that honour could have been Dublin’s.

Following the news last week that Madrid became the first city in the world to offer free Wi-Fi on its buses, Dublin Chamber of Commerce has called for a similar action for Ireland’s capital.

Aebhric McGibney, policy director of Dublin Chamber, reminded Siliconrepublic that it called for such a move three years ago as part of its Knowledge City proposal. Madrid unveiled its initiative as part of the current European Mobility Week.

Smarter Cities

The Madrid service has the slogan ‘Viaja más inteligente, Vive Mejor’ – Travel more intelligently, live better.

McGibney said that if Dublin were to take a similar action it would be possible to better promote the city as a knowledge city. “Dublin’s success in the 21st century will be about getting investment and attracting highly educated, well-paid knowledge workers to base themselves in the city.

“Having free public Wi-Fi would enable workers to keep their digital lifestyles alive, checking email on their smartphones, being productive on their iPads.”

In recent weeks, we reported on an IBM report that said Ireland’s success in winning future foreign direct investment (FDI) would depend heavily on key cities emerging as smart cities with the kind of transport and lifestyle infrastructure that would attract the type of talent companies would need to continue to locate here.

McGibney agrees. “It’s about attracting the rocket scientists and the star managers. Depending on a given sector, a person choosing to live in Dublin might bring with them 100 new jobs if they bring the research they are working on with them.

“We think Wi-Fi on public transport is an element of this. It would also begin to attract people to use public transport instead of taking the car.”

Wi-Fi on trains

Although Irish Rail is piloting Wi-Fi on trains between Dublin and Cork for people who journey up to three to four hours, McGibney says there’s a strong case for putting it on buses, where people’s average journey might be 20 minutes. “With the ubiquity of smartphones and the iPad, people will want to use that time to use their devices to read newspapers, tweet or check their email.

“While we’ve missed a trick in not being the first city, we are still in competition with other cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Amsterdam for smart talent and we need to raise our game to include integrated ticketing and Wi-Fi.”

McGibney said that Dublin Chamber has issued its proposal to the National Transport Authority and has met with various Department of Transport and bus operators. “The situation is that everyone is focused on their own business and there is a gap for someone to join the dots and say this is about selling Dublin abroad.”

McGibney said in the US, cities like San Francisco see the link between open Wi-Fi and tourism growth.

“In Ireland, our proposal fell by the wayside because of communications regulation and the fear among operators that it would hurt their business. In Spain, the regulator there recognised that a basic not-for-profit public level of service would do a lot for the city.

“We spent months with Dublin City Council which looked at its own fibre network and the opportunity to have free Wi-Fi zones in the city and it decided it was unable to proceed because of competition issues.

“Hence, there is a need for the communications regulator to join this debate and for competition policy to be evaluated. We need to allow urban communities if they wish to establish not-for-profit Wi-Fi networks.”

McGibney said that Dublin Chamber is preparing a report on Dublin’s competitiveness which will include recommendations for broadband.

“Broadband and Wi-Fi appear to be the most important issues from an investment point of view and for attracting talent to Dublin,” McGibney said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years