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Governor’s bid to require Wi-Fi on trains barely survives as end of free rides program heads to his desk

Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011

* The House just finished debating an amendment to SB 3336, which would boot RTA Chairman John Gates from his job, require defibrillators on Metra trains and require Metra to set up a Wi-Fi system for its trains.

The amendment passed 57-55-2, but it clearly has a way to go before the actual bill can reach 60 votes.

* The measure was requested by Gov. Quinn, who opposed doing away with the free rides for seniors program and wanted something else out of the deal. It’s now not totally clear whether he’ll sign the free rides reform legislation

The Illinois Senate approved the measure 54-2 without debate. Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, said the change still would allow senior citizens 65 or older to travel free of charge on local transportation, such as CTA, PACE and Metra, if they are eligible for the circuit breaker program that provides property tax and pharmaceutical assistance.

“Almost 60 percent of the seniors currently riding for free will still be eligible to ride without charge under the new eligibility requirements,” Trotter said. “The remaining seniors would still be able to ride for the discounted price.”

A household of two senior citizens with an income of less than $34,000 a year still would be eligible for free rides, said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.

Seniors ineligible for the free rides still would be able to ride for half price, Trotter said.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 10:34 am:

    As fast as Quinn jumps to give away something for free, I am geniunely amazed that he is not personally bankrupt. Was there even a cursory cost-benefit analysis on the WiFi gimmie?

  2. - Oneman - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 10:41 am:

    Since as a rider I am likely going to pay for it in increased ticket prices and since it will not work half the time I will take a pass.

  3. - Excessively Rabid - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 10:44 am:

    Gov. Quinn, who opposed doing away with the free rides for seniors program

    He just doesn’t have a clue what the situation is, does he? Could Brady have been any worse? At least he would have been willing to cut this kind of frill without a tradeoff.

  4. - Quinn T. Sential - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 10:51 am:

    A couple with a combined household income of $34,000 could only be riding the busses or rails to stay warm in the winter, or cool in the summer. Otherwise wherever they were headed, unless it was a public library, they would have no money to spend when they got there anyway.

    If they are giving them free rides; they should give them some additional spending money (drug testing required), otherwise, they will be making the ride to nowhere for nothing.

  5. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 10:53 am:

    QTS, you ever heard of people taking the train to work?

  6. - levois - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:07 am:

    OK, question. What’s the point of mandating Metra to set up a wi-fi system for their trains? Although I do recognize that for a long time Metra was resistant to change, especially using credit cards to purchase tickets for example. But seriously is there a point to the wi-fi thing?

  7. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:20 am:

    Wi-Fi on Metra is certainly a business-friendly move. You can work when you’re riding the rails.

    As an added benefit, it might cut down on some of the loud cell-phone yapping.

  8. - John Galt - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:26 am:

    Seriously: most folks seem to use their smartphone networks. If Wi-Fi were in such high demand, why can’t Metra just do a rider survey and determine if it’s needed on it’s own? What’s from stoping them from ontracting a vendor and having individuals pay for some type of monthly password subscription of they want to use it? Like how some coffee houses do?

    Why do we feel this urge to micro-manage everything and MANDATE this?

  9. - Dave Lundy - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:26 am:

    Wifi on trains would be great. But why the hell is the State requiring Metra to do that. Seems like an overreach for me.

    And before you compare this to cell service in CTA tunnels, there is a strong safety reason for that while there is none for this.

  10. - Emanuel Collective - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:31 am:

    Believe it or not, most people use public transporation to get to work, and most people who use it do so because they don’t make enough to drive. Is that very suprising?

    And yes, there is a point to the WiFi thing. Having an internet connection is crucial to buisness and becoming an everyday part of life for most of us as well.

  11. - Emanuel Collective - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:34 am:

    Metra is essentially a state run system, so it’s not much different from having the GA assign new rules to an agency. This isn’t requiring a private buisness to do something it doesn’t wish to do. If you agree that WiFi on trains is a good thing, why get mad at the way it goes about getting accomplished?

  12. - zatoichi - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:39 am:

    WiFi is a nice benefit, but how many people would use it and will it get more people on the train? My Metra rides have been 30-45 minutes if I go down to the city. I assume it is a pretty cheap add-on.

  13. - Quinn T. Sential - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:43 am:


    @ $34,000 AGI, there is very little incentive to go to work, unless there is some near term opportunity for real increased income. The net difference between potential government subsidies, services, and benefits could likely create all the disincentive necessary to avoid work at all costs.

    Except of course to report for duty long enough to slip and fall and submit a Workers compensation claim against the employer.

  14. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:46 am:

    QTI, you just insulted millions of people who go to work every day and work hard every day, for that salary or even less. I happen to know quite a few of them.

  15. - Plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:47 am:

    Lets see now. We have a public transportation system that requires missive infusions of money to keep it afloat and the Governor and legislature want to add an expensive amenity that is not needed or requested by the ridership.

    The fact is that this service will cost a lot of money to provide and will mean an increased need for revenue from the state which is already broke.

    How can anyone expect the state to control its spending when the pols look for every opportunity to provide something for nothing to a population that is not even asking for it?

    Anyone who benefits from an active internet connection while riding already provides it for themselves. There is no need to spend a bucketful of cash on what turns out to be a duplicative effort.

  16. - Northsider - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:52 am:

    WiFi is almost a requisite for younger adults who have grown up with fast internet connections and who — as a group — are starting to show a distinct preference for transit over driving because one can be online on the train, but not while driving. Laugh all you want, but the systems that offer WiFi will attract these riders.

    And the reason the General Assembly is getting involved? As the whole credit card megillah proved, a legislative mandate is the one force that can drag Metra, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century.

  17. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:54 am:

    Northsider is correct. Metra continues to have a mid 20th Century mindset. I don’t particularly care for this sort of legislation, but Metra has shown that it has little creativity.

  18. - Emanuel Collective - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 11:54 am:

    QTS, as someone who uses public transportation and makes less than $34,000, where can I get on this gravy train? And would you like to come to Chicago and go into these neighborhoods where people struggle to get by and let them know they don’t have to work at all and can triple their income doing so?

  19. - cynically anonymous - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 12:00 pm:

    Maybe it’s just the line I ride, but I don’t notice any of my fellow riders not being able to connect their numerous electronic devices to surf or watch or e-mail as it is. Why mandate something that doesn’t seem to be necesssary?

  20. - John Galt - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 12:07 pm:

    Metra continues to have a mid 20th Century mindset. I don’t particularly care for this sort of legislation, but Metra has shown that it has little creativity.

    Might it be that the RTA & Metra are too far removed from the public to be responsive? What about direct elections?

    Of course, one problem is that the RTA and by extension Metra is massively subsidized by the GA. So if you have an independent board now making campaign promises to boot, they’ll offer all kinds of free stuff, then go running to the GA for the money…

  21. - John Galt - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 12:10 pm:

    The bottom line is I haven’t seen any massive popular revolt on the Metra hollering for WiFi service. I’d classify WiFi as a “nice to have”. Even once there’s widespread & vocal demand, you’d think Metra at that point would just initiate the project itself…

  22. - Emanuel Collective - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 12:19 pm:

    Thank goodness we have a system where massive revolts aren’t needed to institute change!

  23. - frustrated GOP - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 12:20 pm:

    Metra is behind on so many things, I think wifi would be helpful. QTS, you either don’t live in Chicago or suburbs or have a clue. I’ve seen people walking the 1 mile plus from the homeless shelter to the train station to get on and go to work, people that looked like they were living in there van getting out at the station to get on the train to go to work in “The City”. as expensive as that train ride is, it’s what gets them to work and the work is downtown. what an arrogant statement to make.

  24. - Newsclown - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 12:48 pm:

    Nowhere did I read that the wifi was going to be free to use… Did we all jump to a conclusion about that? ANyhow, it is a good marketing move to promote more train usage.

  25. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 12:49 pm:

    It doesn’t have to be free.

  26. - AnonX - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 1:02 pm:

    “Of course, one problem is that the RTA and by extension Metra is massively subsidized by the GA.”

    John - The RTA is funded mainly by a sales tax, not the GA. Look it up.

  27. - MrJM - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 1:07 pm:

    Any Metra reform that would encourage riders to type rather than chatter on their cellphones is a Metra reform worth serious consideration.

    – MrJM

  28. - Plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 1:22 pm:

    WiFi is a requisite…

    Those people who need/want it have it. No need to require or subsidize it. As far as making it a pay service, has anyone seen what happened to telephones and pay as you go WiFi on aircraft? It pretty well dies because the vendors did not make enough money.

    Once above ground, I have never had a problem getting an internet connection while riding the choo-choo. No need to drain public resources whether from the General Fund or the RTA tax for something that has less of a need than providing good service.

  29. - jerry 101 - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 1:22 pm:

    Putting WiFi on the trains would make the ride more beneficial to a lot of people - Yeah, you can get data on your phone or through a sprint card on your computer, but wifi networks are a lot faster. Faster means you can actually work on things rather than just play video games. Plus, it may have side benefits - Metra could get updates on emergencies and other information to passengers more quickly if it were to install monitors in each car. There may be some technical requirements that could involve wifi where Metra could eventually install GPS units in each train, link them up with electronic signs in the stations, and provide real time data on how much time until the next train arrives (as CTA does in a more limited fashion for its buses - you have to download the info on your cell phone though. In some places, they have signs at the stations that announce how far away the next train/bus is).

    I don’t think that WiFi’s exactly prohibitively expensive either, especially once the infrastructure’s installed. Normally, even the infrastructure wouldn’t be that expensive, but I’m sure its a bit more complicated with trains than it is for a coffeehouse.

    By the way, QTS, retirees do work and make less than $34k a year. And, even if they don’t work, they do have places to go, and public trans is often their only connection. Things like going to the doctor, to the grocery store, to the pharmacy, etc.

    A lot of people, young and old alike, get by on a lot less than $34k. And they work their butts off.

  30. - Patchman - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 2:06 pm:

    Is Quinn going after John Gates because Gates backed Brady? What a petty move for a would-be reformer! The Governor has no business appointing a regional agency head!

  31. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 2:11 pm:

    –Except of course to report for duty long enough to slip and fall and submit a Workers compensation claim against the employer.–

    QTS, that’s really below the fold, man. If you ride Metra at all, you’ll see plenty of old folks — cleaning ladies, dishwashers, janitors, etc — heading to work from the city to the suburbs.

    –Once above ground, I have never had a problem getting an internet connection while riding the choo-choo.–

    Pluto, if you’ve ever been underground on Metra you have a lot bigger problems than WiFi connections. Don’t sweat it though — ridership area sales tax and fares pay the freight for that service.

  32. - Marty - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 3:05 pm:

    Don’t sweat it, it’s only money.

    Other people’s money. That makes it all even easier to throw around. On the same day as a 60% income tax hike.

    They all disgust me.

  33. - PJS - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 3:07 pm:

    Patchman’s got it. This isn’t about WiFi at all, that’s a smoke screen for the removal of Gates. Why does Quinn want to appoint the next chair of the RTA? Why does he want Gates gone? that’s the real issue here.

  34. - Laughing_All_The_Way - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 3:10 pm:

    Nothing like handing out goodies while the state is financially imploding. Better yet the so called poor that are rich enough to afford laptops that can utilize wi-fi will be getting a nice tax increase that one way or another will go into the pots that pay for these goodies.
    This whole thing gets sillier by the moment

  35. - Justa Joe - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 5:23 pm:

    Wi-Fi is nice, but why can’t Metra make that business decision on its own? More than Wi-Fi, boost PARKING. Until they all ride bikes or walk to the trains, gotta have more places to park CARS.

  36. - Angry Chicagoan - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 5:46 pm:

    I’m reluctantly in favor of Quinn’s move. American railroading in general, and Metra in particular, suffers deeply from a Not-Invented-Here mentality. You see it everywhere from Metra’s customer relations to Amtrak’s weird and inefficient boarding procedures to Union Pacific’s phobia of almost anything invented after the diesel locomotive. If railroads have to be kicked around by government in order to reach the end of the 20th century, never mind entering the 21st, then so be it.

    On a related note, I personally think that at least with Chicago-area transit, it ought to be privatized or at least outsourced. Put it out to bid and have the state and cities pay private operators a certain amount, probably similar to the current subsidy, to provide a mandated level of service. I’m convinced it would improve, and you’d see a broader effort to be more customer friendly. They’d have an actual financial stake in it, you see, unlike current agency managers and hourly workers.

  37. - OneMan - Tuesday, Jan 11, 11 @ 9:06 pm:

    If they charge for wifi on Metra the cost would have to be significantly lower than what you can get a mobile hotspot device for now. Otherwise why pay metra (or it’s vendor) $25 a month for service on a train when you can spend $40 and get it everywhere

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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