Caltrain Rejecting Wi-Fi for Trains Makes Sense to Me

I was reading this post on how Caltrain is rejecting a bid to build out Wi-Fi for the train system. As someone who rides Caltrain from Mountain View to SF once or twice a week, I think it’s a smart move. I’ve noticed that people who regularly ride the train and really want to work have broadband access cards that they simply use on the train while riding. I see many other people who have laptops but no interest in working – they either watch movies, sleep, or read a book. When you factor in the relatively short commute time for Caltrain (90 minutes tops from end to end), it’s hard to make the case for Wi-Fi on the train.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that only the newest Caltrain cabins are suitable for working – the newest trains have power plugs, tables, and arrangements that are more conducive to 30-60 minutes of work.

  • kabulykos

    You can't assume a hitchhiker has “no interest” in driving, or a paraplegic has “no interest in” triathalons, simply looking at them. It's not like anyone would be fired up enough to have a Pavlovian response if you shouted “Wifi!” on the train.

    A friend of mine commutes on caltrain and would “really like” to work on the train, but can't afford the additional expense of a broadband access card. (His company doesn't reimburse telecommuting expenses.) Perhaps he watches DVDs on his commute instead.

    It might be moot once everyone has an iphone or better in her pocket, but til then I can be certain a lot of folks will remain bummed out.

  • I do agree that working on Caltrain is nice and that Wi-Fi would make it easier for a lot of people to work on the train. I just have two observations as someone who takes the train at least once per week:

    1. The only trains where you can really work are the ones that have tables and power outlets. Otherwise, you have to balance a laptop in your lap which is bad for many reasons.

    2. Most of the people working on the train have broadband access cards, making the introduction of Wi-Fi superfluous.

    I'll also sneak in a 3rd point. A lot of the people I see riding the train at peak times do seem to work for companies who are fine providing them with broadband access cards.

    I think Wi-Fi on trains would help. But I'd rather see Caltrain get all of the trains up to par with the current crop that have nice seats and power before they push Wi-Fi.

    This whole thing is mute if you plan to use an iPhone or Blackberry to get work done.

  • RailRider

    You my friend are an idiot. Connectivity is a must these days and if not a necessity it's definitely a minor luxury. While the prospect of getting Wi-Fi up and running may be cost prohibitive at the moment, it certainly would be an attractive feature to have on the train in the SILICON VALLEY!!! Get with it old man.

  • Interesting thoughts on this issue. It's funny, we didn't even have WIFI a few short years ago, but now it seems as though we can't live without it. Funny times in which we live.

  • The post really nice , i like it ,thanks for sharing,thanks for your post, i will keep read your blog everyday

  • NotRailRider

    I realize this post is over a year old, but it is strangely one of the top google hits. Anyway, I hope by now you've realized the major flaws in your reasoning. You cannot assume people have no interest in an unavailable service through their usage of a different service. That's like saying that people did not want a real web browser on their cell phones because very few people used the primitive browsers that came on older cell phones. As you can see, the iPhone brought a functionality that, once available, became high in demand.

    I rode Caltrain about four times a week and I saw many people trying to work while on the train. My response:

    1) People can, and do, balance their laptops on their laps (no matter how bad it may be for “other reasons”). Furthermore, (fresh) laptop batteries easily last longer than 90 minutes, so the fact that there are no outlets is irrelevant to whether or not people would work if they had WiFi.

    2) Just because most of the people *you saw* working already had access cards doesn't mean there isn't unmet demand. Furthermore, perhaps people who have access cards would prefer WiFi but only use the access cards out of necessity. I think the gentleman who called you an idiot was frustrated by your failure to see this point. People who want to use WiFi but don't have access cards don't show up in your “analysis.” You assume they don't exist because they don't have a sign on their foreheads that says, “I'd rather be connecting using WiFi.”

    3) People “seem to work for?” Based on what? Looking at what they are wearing? Furthermore, you miss the population of people who would take the train if it had WiFi because they could work from their laptop (not PDA) — instead, these people drive because they don't see any extra value (to them) by taking the train. I know several people who fall into this category – they calculate that driving may take them 40 minutes while the train 1hr, so they get 20 minutes of more work by driving. If that 1 hr was spent working, the calculation would flip.

    “mute?” The word is MOOT. Mute is a button on your television remote. And it isn't moot – like I said before, while you may be able to read email or access the web on an iPhone or BB, you cannot do things like edit documents stored on the secure server, access internal code repositories, work on spreadsheets, etc. If your job requires one of those types of tasks, you'd better believe that you'd prefer WiFi on the train – and if you didn't have it, you'd be forced to watch DVDs, read books or sleep.

    I feel sorry for your company if you are their VP. This is your own blog so I won't insult you, but honestly, you need to work on your reasoning skills a bit. Your lack of forward vision is a serious liability for them. If anything, your post convinced me never to do business with Serious Business, your company. If they allowed someone with your reasoning skills to ascend to the VP spot, I cannot imagine what kind of “talent” (sarcasm) is developing the products.

  • NotRailRider

    I realize this post is over a year old, but it is strangely one of the top google hits. Anyway, I hope by now you’ve realized the major flaws in your reasoning. You cannot assume people have no interest in an unavailable service through their usage of a different service. That’s like saying that people did not want a real web browser on their cell phones because very few people used the primitive browsers that came on older cell phones. As you can see, the iPhone brought a functionality that, once available, became high in demand.rnrnI rode Caltrain about four times a week and I saw many people trying to work while on the train. My response:rnrn1) People can, and do, balance their laptops on their laps (no matter how bad it may be for “other reasons”). Furthermore, (fresh) laptop batteries easily last longer than 90 minutes, so the fact that there are no outlets is irrelevant to whether or not people would work if they had WiFi.rnrn2) Just because most of the people *you saw* working already had access cards doesn’t mean there isn’t unmet demand. Furthermore, perhaps people who have access cards would prefer WiFi but only use the access cards out of necessity. I think the gentleman who called you an idiot was frustrated by your failure to see this point. People who want to use WiFi but don’t have access cards don’t show up in your “analysis.” You assume they don’t exist because they don’t have a sign on their foreheads that says, “I’d rather be connecting using WiFi.”rnrn3) People “seem to work for?” Based on what? Looking at what they are wearing? Furthermore, you miss the population of people who would take the train if it had WiFi because they could work from their laptop (not PDA) — instead, these people drive because they don’t see any extra value (to them) by taking the train. I know several people who fall into this category – they calculate that driving may take them 40 minutes while the train 1hr, so they get 20 minutes of more work by driving. If that 1 hr was spent working, the calculation would flip.rnrn”mute?” The word is MOOT. Mute is a button on your television remote. And it isn’t moot – like I said before, while you may be able to read email or access the web on an iPhone or BB, you cannot do things like edit documents stored on the secure server, access internal code repositories, work on spreadsheets, etc. If your job requires one of those types of tasks, you’d better believe that you’d prefer WiFi on the train – and if you didn’t have it, you’d be forced to watch DVDs, read books or sleep.rnrnI feel sorry for your company if you are their VP. This is your own blog so I won’t insult you, but honestly, you need to work on your reasoning skills a bit. Your lack of forward vision is a serious liability for them. If anything, your post convinced me never to do business with Serious Business, your company. If they allowed someone with your reasoning skills to ascend to the VP spot, I cannot imagine what kind of “talent” (sarcasm) is developing the products.

  • Thanks for the comment and thanks for catching the typo. It was an error on my part.

    If you'll note the date on this post, I wrote it in September 2007. The state of net access was pretty different at that point in time.

    I take Caltrain for work just about every day. I believe that there is more demand for Wi-Fi on Caltrain now than there was when I wrote this post. I don't believe that Caltrain or any most any other transit agency can afford to offer free Wi-Fi on an ongoing basis for all of its users (although some of the bus services do it now – I'm not sure that's financially sustainable). BART plans to offer Wi-Fi as well and it's likely to be on a paid basis. So if someone wants to outfit Caltrain cars with paid or free Wi-Fi for laptops / PDAs / etc, they have better odds of success today than they did a year ago.

    A lot of the working folks I see on Caltrain (including me) often proudly sport corporate logowear as they type away on their laptops with their EVDO cards. You're right to say that I can't assume that people who aren't on the train today wouldn't be induced to do so if the train had free Wi-Fi. I don't believe that offering Wi-Fi would radically shift Caltrain usage patterns, though.

    Overall, I think Caltrain has bigger problems than Wi-Fi. Keeping fares affordable for everyone and upgrading the fleet of trains to the new cars strike me as higher priorities.

  • Thanks for the comment and thanks for catching the typo. It was an error on my part.rnrnIf you’ll note the date on this post, I wrote it in September 2007. The state of net access was pretty different at that point in time.rnrnI take Caltrain for work just about every day. I believe that there is more demand for Wi-Fi on Caltrain now than there was when I wrote this post. I don’t believe that Caltrain or any most any other transit agency can afford to offer free Wi-Fi on an ongoing basis for all of its users (although some of the bus services do it now – I’m not sure that’s financially sustainable). BART plans to offer Wi-Fi as well and it’s likely to be on a paid basis. So if someone wants to outfit Caltrain cars with paid or free Wi-Fi for laptops / PDAs / etc, they have better odds of success today than they did a year ago.rnrnA lot of the working folks I see on Caltrain (including me) often proudly sport corporate logowear as they type away on their laptops with their EVDO cards. You’re right to say that I can’t assume that people who aren’t on the train today wouldn’t be induced to do so if the train had free Wi-Fi. I don’t believe that offering Wi-Fi would radically shift Caltrain usage patterns, though.rnrnOverall, I think Caltrain has bigger problems than Wi-Fi. Keeping fares affordable for everyone and upgrading the fleet of trains to the new cars strike me as higher priorities.