Substandard Wi-Fi in the subway

In stark contrast to the thriving wildlife one sees in the tunnels (and occasionally platforms) of the New York City subway system, they have historically been dead zomes when it comes to wireless access and thus a prime candidate for Wi-Fi installations. We’ve now started to see just that happen via the involvement of Boingo, and with a free option even. It sounds like a winning idea, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired.

Bear in mind that consumers often don’t have a lot of time waiting on the subway platform. They probably just want to catch a last e-mail or send off a last text before before being consigned to 15 to 60 minutes of engaging in the saga of crushed candy. But the free Boingo option requires the user to engage in a task such as watching a video (good luck hearing it without headphones if a train passes by). The last time I tried it, it asked me to download an app I already had and no amount of switching into it could convince Boingo that I wasn’t trying to cheat my way into two precious minutes of Wi-Fi access before the train arrived. Dismiss this as a local rant, but it’s a case study in poor user experience design.

Ideally, it would be great to see a system where you pay for Wi-Fi access when you buy the MetroCard that offers you access to the trains. You would pay a premium on top of the normal fare rate and the MetroCard would include some passcode or QR code — maybe even NFC if we were getting fancy — that grants access. But the MetroCard dispensers would have to be upgraded and I dare not fathom the billing work that would need to happen in the background. It just makes a New Yorker even less patient for the arrival of cellular access.

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