Outfitting Networks with Improved Connectivity to Create a Better Rider Experience

Feb. 15, 2022
Canadian transit agencies are responding to rider feedback by starting to offer one of the most requested amenities: Wi-Fi. 

A highly requested amenity is coming to several Canadian transit agencies: Wi-Fi. For TransLink and GO Transit, offering riders a connected journey has been a priority for a couple of years. And now, they’re responding to customer feedback by equipping their networks with this key feature.  

Rolling out a passenger Wi-Fi network requires a methodical approach from the transit agency and its vendor to ensure success. By working in phases, the agencies validate the network is operational and incorporate customer feedback.  


In October 2021, TransLink, working with Shaw Communications Inc., (Shaw) began introducing free Wi-Fi on three SkyTrain cars and at two stations as part of a system-wide initiative to provide Wi-Fi on all buses, SeaBuses, SkyTrains and at transit stations and major transit hubs. 

“Providing free Wi-Fi to our customers at low or no cost to TransLink has been a priority for our organization for many years,” said Dan Mountain, spokesperson and senior advisor, media relations and issues management, TransLink. “The agreement between Shaw and TransLink provides free Wi-Fi across our entire fleet at no expense to TransLink.” 

The next phase of the rollout will focus on equipping 60-foot articulated buses and Expo and Millennium SkyTrain cars since they serve the most customers. Shaw will then work with TransLink to continue the installation until the entire fleet is equipped with Wi-Fi.  

“This complex deployment encompasses both land and sea transport alongside fixed locations and transit exchanges,” said Chethan Lakshman, vice president of external affairs, Shaw. “The phased, multi-year rollout of this program helps ensure there is little to no impact on TransLink’s customers as we work to deliver an improved rider experience for passengers across Metro Vancouver.” 

Mountain adds the rollout is on schedule and anticipates the entire fleet, including buses and trains, and stations will have Wi-Fi by the agency’s target date of 2026. SeaBuses and SeaBus terminals have Wi-Fi access from a previous installation from Shaw and TransLink. 

So far, the Wi-Fi has worked, and customers have appreciated the new amenity.  

“Most customer comments have either been thanking us for providing them with free Wi-Fi or asking us when they’ll see Wi-Fi on their route or on more trains,” Mountain said.  

Lakshman added, “We are pleased that through our partnership with TransLink, we are able to together create a better transit experience that allows passengers to stay connected on their commutes across buses, SeaBuses, Skytrains, transit stations and major transit hubs." 

GO Transit 

Offering customer Wi-Fi was also a key priority for GO Transit, so the agency began the process in 2017 and developed a proof of concept with two proponents in 2018, explains Meredith Sumner, senior manager, partnership strategy and account management, Metrolinx. By September 2019, the agency reached an agreement with Icomera Canada, a subsidiary of Equans, to equip GO Transit’s fleet of 532 buses and 943 train coaches with Wi-Fi and provide the required infrastructure and equipment.  

After reaching the agreement, GO Transit approached its Wi-Fi rollout to create a consistent experience for customers, which meant equipping the entire bus fleet and half of the rail fleet.  

“[Customers] would show up and that bus would have Wi-Fi and the next day it might be a different bus [but] it would still have Wi-Fi,” Sumner said. “We had to balance that a little bit with the trains where we wanted to make sure that we had enough vehicles... we wanted to get to a volume where we were able to have a somewhat consistent customer experience.” 

That consistency was delivered in September 2020 when GO Transit publicly launched its passenger Wi-Fi: GO Wi-Fi Plus. It’s not just an internet connection. The turnkey product also offers content to riders such as shows, movies, podcasts and more—an added benefit since an average trip is around 45 minutes. Icomera oversees providing the content, as well as selling advertising space within the content portal. Customers can filter the content based on their trip duration in increments of 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes.  

“We wanted to give them something else as an added value proposition. And that something else is what we call the ‘plus’ in the GO Wi-fi Plus,” Sumner said.  

Each time someone connects to the network, their session is about four hours long. If customers transfer vehicles or leave the system for a short period, their device will automatically recognize and reconnect to the network, creating a seamless experience.  

Also within the portal is a survey where customers can provide real-time feedback on their seamless experience. Overall, riders have been understanding throughout the process and the Wi-Fi has been well received. And the agency hopes this new amenity will welcome riders back or encourage people to try transit.  

“Tying someone's choice of transit or mode of transit to a particular amenity has always been something that we would love to get our fingers and arms around a little bit better. But what we've seen is that this is a delight for people who have maybe not used the system in the last couple of years,” Sumner said.  

Customers aren’t the only ones benefiting from the Wi-Fi. While they connect online, GO Transit connects with them thanks to an opt-in riders can select to accept marketing messages. Sumner explains this helps the agency get the right message to the right person at the right time, whether that be service notifications or other promotions. And eventually, GO Transit hopes to integrate the Wi-Fi with its passenger information system so customers can access more information.  

“That's really what we're working towards, is how can we make this a really one stop shop for our customers,” Sumner concluded.  

Other agencies 

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is also equipping its vehicles with free Wi-Fi through a phased approach, starting with bus route 35 in June 2021 and expanding to route 102 Markham Road shortly after. Both routes were strategically selected for the pilot program because of their popularity and the communities they serve.  

While offering Wi-Fi is part of TTC’s efforts to enhance its system, it’s also part of a larger city program that aims to prioritize and provide Wi-Fi access to Neighborhood Improvement Areas (NIAs).  

The 35 Jane and 102 Markham routes serve some NIAs and are the first phase of a six-month pilot project where TTC will evaluate a variety of Wi-Fi service models. The results and feedback will provide direction for the Request for Proposal TTC anticipates awarding for a fully managed customer Wi-Fi network on its buses and streetcars. Customers may share feedback via phone or an online form.  

In the first week, TTC notes passengers spent more than 2,100 hours on the internet during their commutes and changes have already been made to the program based on customer feedback. And within the first two weeks of launch, TTC says Wi-Fi steadily grew in popularity.  

“We know that, especially now, connectivity is essential, even on-the-go, and we're both proud and excited to be improving our customers' commutes one route at a time,” said TTC CEO Rick Leary in a statement announcing the expansion to route 102.  

And VIA Rail Canada recently awarded a contract to Icomera to equip its trains with passenger Wi-Fi for the rail provider’s new Québec City-Windsor corridor fleet. Icomera has also been tasked with creating onboard digital platform that will include VIA Rail’s website, trip tracking and other elements.  

The first train set to be commissioned with Wi-Fi is scheduled for the fourth quarter in 2022 after the service has been tested to ensure peak performance and uptime.  

“The future of travel is becoming a reality in Canada – together, as industry partners, we have a shared mission for green mobility in today’s digitally transformed world,” said Icomera CEO Magnus Friberg when announcing the VIA Rail Canada agreement.  

About the Author

Megan Perrero | Associate Editor

Megan Perrero is an award-winning B2B journalist. She is the associate editor of Mass Transit magazine where she assists with developing the newsletters and social media posts, along with the online and print content. She is currently a board member for Latinos in Transit and serves on the APTA Marketing and Communications Committee. She’s based out of Chicago, Ill.

Prior to joining the team, Perrero gained experience covering the manufacturing and processing food and beverage industry, the agriculture industry and the library industry.

Perrero is a Columbia College Chicago alumna where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a concentration in magazine writing and a minor in public relations.