SA govt to rig buses for free internet

The South Australian Government is planning to offer free internet on the state's public transport system to make it more appealing to use — but it needs to find a vendor willing to install the technology first.

The South Australian Government is planning to offer free internet on the state's public transport system to make it more appealing to use — but it needs to find a hardware vendor and ISP willing to install the technology first.

The chief information officer of South Australia's Department for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure, John Maunder, told ZDNet.com.au that the government would approach the industry in the next fortnight to gauge its interest in supplying technology to give commuters free internet on public transport.

"We're getting together with a number of interested parties in two weeks and will be assessing their willingness to participate in that trial. We're trying to understand what they would want," he said.

"We're looking for a free service for the period of the trial," he added.

Maunder said he was hoping South Australia could provide something on par with a trial in San Francisco. Switch and router giant Cisco recently rigged up the city's buses with wireless internet, allowing commuters to check email, surf the Web and get bus timetable information.

Other cities Cisco is equipping public transport systems with wireless internet include Seoul, Lisbon, Madrid, and Hamburg.

According to Maunder there would be four major advantages of rolling out wireless on public transport, and not just for commuters. At least 1,000 bus drivers stand to gain from the service.

"It should provide real-time security," said Maunder. "That means there is a camera in the vehicle transmitting information to a control centre where staff can monitor if there is an incident, and from there allow them to connect to the police to investigate."

Passengers stand to gain by being able to access on-board entertainment, public transport and general location information, while bus drivers should be able to avoid congestion caused, for example, by a road accident by being fed alternative routes through the system. A major bonus for commuters would be the ability to tell how far a bus is away from arriving, or whether it has already left.


"In areas less frequently serviced, missing the bus by five minutes means a wait of another hour. To know if it's just passed or is close to arriving is very important," he said.

As for the cost of making such a system available, Maunder says he hasn't got estimates yet. "We don't know what the cost per vehicle will be until we do the trial," he said.

He would not disclose which vendors or ISPs would be approached.

Whether Wi-fi or WiMax would be used to deliver the service is not known. In fact, Maunder said: "We don't really care about the technology. We just want to provide something that works, which will be whatever the ISP that works for us decides."