The Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) is planning to provide free Wi-Fi internet access to all commuters on the Luas and has launched a consultation process to sound out potential suppliers.
In a notice published on the eTenders website, the RPA said it wants to explore all options around providing free Wi-Fi on both the Green and Red lines in Dublin – including both the technical challenges and the commercial opportunities.
In similar services on other transport networks, consumers connect their phones or laptops via Wi-Fi and the connection to the internet is then carried over 3G, often using more than one mobile network to ensure the best possible coverage. One of the typical technical hurdles to overcome is that, as moving vehicles pass quickly between base stations, access speeds can vary widely. Another might be how many access points would be needed per carriage to provide a service with decent access speeds for sufficient numbers of people: last year there were 27.4m passenger journeys on the Luas.
The start date for the consultation process is 30 May. No estimates have been given for the cost of the project. The Luas fleet comprises 66 technically similar trams across both lines. The 26 Sandyford-based trams operating on the Green line have seven interconnected carriages, while the 40 based at Red Cow Depot in West Dublin have five.
Luas would be the latest form of transport to provide internet access in Ireland. Bus Eireann began a free trial on its Dublin-Galway route last October. According to an update on its website, Irish Rail recently ended a pilot phase and a tender process is now under way. During the pilot, the rail network provided the service on one of its busiest routes, Cork to Dublin. It offered both free and paid access to test the public’s appetite for both options.
Private bus operators started the trend in 2009 by offering free Wi-Fi and some Dublin taxis also offer the service. Many in the industry believe that because the first movers chose to provide Wi-Fi for free, that effectively meant others that followed had to do likewise. Some speculate that the most likely commercial opportunity for a supplier to earn back the investment in equipment could be location-based advertising.
It’s probably no coincidence that the RPA notice provides demographic figures aimed more at marketers than engineers: 70pc of commuters last year were in the ABC1 bracket, 66pc were under 35 years of age and 54pc were women.