Muni Underground May Get Cell Phone Service

Your list of grievances with the Muni underground might soon get one gigabyte shorter. That’s because cellular phone service may be coming to an underground Muni Metro train or station near you.

The incredibly welcome (and overdue) news arrived Wednesday morning with a tweet from SFMTA and a press release announcing efforts to bring cell phone service capabilities to the underground tunnels and stations of the Muni light rail system.

Board of Supervisors president London Breed captured the giddiness of the moment with her own tweet from Wednesday morning’s press conference announcing the plan. “I pushed for years to get cell service for Muni subway riders & now it’s coming!,” she tweeted — from Van Ness station.

The coverage would essentially be an extension of the BART cell service that was installed in 2010 and brought coverage to the system’s underground tunnels and to the Transbay Tube. This new proposal would be a partnership between Muni and BART, and BART would apparently handle the negotiations with the cell phone service carriers.

Sure, some of us do get a fairly decent signal in various parts of the tunnels. (The SFMTA even put out a press release in July hyping various underground stations as great places to play Pokemon Go.) But the cell service has long been spotty and not very strong at certain stations, whereas this new underground cellular service truly plans to catch ’em all.

“We have heard from our riders who have asked for cell service in the subway for some time, so we are working to deliver this amenity in partnership with BART,” SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said in the press release. “Providing cell service within the Muni Metro will help improve communications to our Muni riders, can assist in emergency situations, and will give the riding public an additional service they want.”

Haha! Yeah right, like we want cell service in the underground tunnels so we can get Muni alerts and emergency updates. We’re just want to look at Facebook or play Zombie Frontier for our whole commute, thank you very much.

“Our plan not only improves the rider experience; it will actually make money for Muni,” Supervisor Breed said in the press release. “It’s truly a win-win.”

It will supposedly make money for Muni because, in the spirit of Donald Trump, we will make them pay for it. That is, cellular service carriers like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Metro PCS will be asked to foot the bill for building the underground cellular network, and those carriers would presumably just pass the costs back to us as we go through gobs of data watching ball games or playing Candy Crush on the underground Muni lines.

It should be noted that this entire plan is still a proposal, and the service would not be completed until about the time you have your iPhone 8 or iPhone 9. The proposal is going before the SFMTA Board at their Sept. 20 meeting, then after that would need to be approved by the full San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

If both of those bodies approve the plan, all of the individual service cell carriers would have to agree to the terms. That seems fairly likely, considering they’re already on board with a similar service on BART. But there’s still plenty of negotiating ahead, and construction of the network is anticipated to take 12 to 18 months.

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