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Let's Compare: SF MTA and LA MTA On Cell Phone Service UPDATE!

While I've never understood the "need" for cell phone service in tunnels Deep Under The Earth, especialy since we got along without cell phones for decades, some people think this is a big deal. Thus, it was interesting to read news about cell phone service in the SFMTA subway and service on two lines of the LA MTA on the same day. It provides an interesting insight into how two different agencies take on the problem.

First up: our SFMTA. The article in SFGate.com compares and contrasts Muni's experiences trying to install service vs. BART (which obviously has more riders and tunnels, hence more interest from cell phone providers). In the end, we find that nothing is happening because no one will install the equipment on their dime, and Muni has "other priorities" (Like taking another 9 million dollars out of the general fund to appease North Beach residents regarding the bazillion dollar Central Subway.)

As I stated before, personally I find it to be a minor irritation at best, although some riders have told me there is a legitimate safety issue - if there's an accident or other Big Incident, having some sort of way to communicate beyond the nominal system on the trains might not be a bad idea. What bothers me more is how clearly this is something that doesn't have to cost the agency any money, but there's a lot of talking and treating this like it's the biggest math problem in the world, when it's not.

Why? Well read this article about cell service for the LA MTA's various subway lines. Not only have they found a provider to install the equipment necessary, the LA MTA won't just get the equipment for free - they'll be making a minimum of $360,000 a year off of the system. Cell phone companies will pay to access the system (and who is going to want to miss out on such an opportunity to one-up the competition).

It seems to me that even with Muni's shorter tunnels, I've got to believe in tech-heavy SF, such a system would be a money maker for everyone. Perhaps in LA, they spend less time appeasing the masses with endless "outreach" and spend more time getting things done than we do. Surely, we can do better.

UPDATE: The LA MTA Board approved the contract to get cell service in stations on Feb. 28. Meanwhile the SFMTA spent $9 million local dollars to appease Sup. David Chiu's (loud) constituents regarding the tunnel boring equipment in his district. That's $9 million being taken away from existing maintenance and needs for other lines. Way to go, San Francisco!

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