The Dublin Chamber of Commerce has called for the roll-out of wireless broadband access on public transport including Dart, buses and commuter trains to support the development of Dublin as a ‘knowledge city’.
Frankly, speaking as a regular long haul commuter (Wexford to Dublin by train or bus, hail rain or shine), this is just nuts.
The investment necessary to achieve this would be far better spent developing some form of ‘knowledge worker hubs’ in what are currently satellite dormer towns and villages within the East coast commuter belt (which stretches now to Wexford Town). This would reduce the need for people to commute, support development of local communities, support the nuturing of relationships and families etc.
Sticking wifi on the Wexford to Dublin train would not work (and I suspect similar reasons would apply on other commuter routes).
Firstly, there are quite large stretches of the line where there is no mobile access (and I’m not talking spanky 3g here, I’m talking ‘hello, I’m on the train’ phone call territory). So that creates a technical challenge to create a network that will actually work and let people do things on the train. Secondly the train in the morning is pretty much full from Gorey up (people were standing from Wicklow this past Monday).
So the social impact of fishing out a laptop is not to be underestimated as you would inevitably have to smack the person next to you in the head with it (I’ve taken to using my pda to make notes on the train using my spanky bluetooth keyboard to avoid such faux pas). Also, the tables on current commuter trains are tiny and are actually too small to use a laptop on without taking up ALL of the table (again, PDA and small foldy keyboard work OK). For those times when I absolutely have to use my laptop to send/receive email or such like I have a mobile broadband dongley thing from vodafone which meets my needs (until I hit ‘dark territory’ on the route when all bets are off and I just read a book).
There is of course some spanky technology about that, to an extent, solves the problems of maintaining connectivity when on/in a moving target (actually, the mobile broadband stuff does this reasonably well in my experience using it on the 002 bus to/from Dublin or the aforementioned train). But the issues of network black spots, managing contention, and the physical challenges of actually working on a overcrowded train would take a lot of investment in infrastructure to overcome.
What is the cost/benefit analysis for this? Is there a better mix that would deliver greater benefit overall?
As a commuter, I’d much rather have the investment that this would require spent on developing and promoting knowledge economy industries in areas such as the South East, promoting broadband availability to regions (through telcos or local providers), developing integrated ticketing for public transport, increasing capacity, frequency and comfort on commuter rail and generally raising public transport to a point where it is actually possible to work on the train. Reducing the cost of public transport to the passengers would also be a good investment. I already have the level of wireless broadband connectivity I need for working as I travel to Dublin.
And let’s not forget the terrorist risks, as highlighted by the Steven Seagal movie Under Seige 2, where a terrorist uses a train as a mobile platform to wreak havoc and destruction – using a wireless network connection (where did I put that mobile broadband dongle?).
Come to think of it, there was a network blackspot as a major plot point in that movie as well.