Cellphone Service Coming to NYC Subway Stations

Cell phone service in four NYC subway stations starts Sept. 27--and New Yorkers are split over the development.

New York City straphangers, prepare for the latest invasion: The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) confirmed starting Sept. 27 that subway riders at four stations in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan will be able to use their mobile phones on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks. Station coverage for the trial run, which has no official end date, extends from the 14th Street stations from 6th Avenue to 8th Avenue, and on the 23rd Street and 8th Avenue subway station.

The project, which is two years behind schedule, is a joint venture between the MTA and Transit Wireless and will eventually cover all the MTA's underground stations. However, coverage will only extend into the very beginning of the station tunnels, which means chatty commuters will be limited in the length of their conversations-unless you're hanging out on the platform waiting for a late-night F train, perhaps.

Daniel Helmer, 30, a software engineer for FactSet and the owner of an iPhone 4 on the AT&T network, said because he is not a huge talker on the phone and only an occasional texter, the support of cellular data services is a more attractive component of the service. "When it comes to the subway I would mainly be interested in reading stuff to pass the time, like browse the Internet," he said. "But there would obviously be the benefit of being able to contact -the outside world' if need be."

While the extra noise it might bring to the ride in an unwelcome rise in volume levels, Helmer is basically unconcerned-if also prepared for the possibility of increased chatter. "I think that wouldn't really bug me on the platform, but would be fairly annoying on the actual car where you wouldn't be able to escape a loud talker," he said. "However, when I am commuting I am usually wearing headphones that are essentially ear plugs."

Other New Yorkers are not sold on the advantages-or view the possible expansion of the technology into actual subway tunnels as a potential headache. "[Service in] stations is alright, I guess," said Alex Saltiel, a production coordinator for a television network in Midtown Manhattan. "I don't want people on cell phones in cars-ever. It's an enclosed space, often very crowded. I don't need people yapping in my ear--it's bad enough when people think they can play their music sans headphones."

The agreements with AT&T and T-Mobile are for 10 years with four five-year renewal options, and they can be extended to include additional underground subway stations as the wireless network is expanded. Under its contract with the MTA, Transit Wireless will install wireless capability in all 277 underground subway stations by 2016, according to information on the company's Web site. In addition to providing wireless service in subway stations, the Transit Wireless agreements with AT&T and T-Mobile provide revenue to the MTA, which will share in the occupancy fees paid by the carriers and other providers of services on the network.

As New Yorkers prepare for the ups and downs of cell phone service in their subway stations, they might find a recently released application could be just as useful as a phone call when figuring out delays or travel plans. The TravAlarm NYC application, distributed by Zappmine, a service operated by software company Business Data Mine, receives updates from the MTA and offers built-in features that allow commuters to personalize their routes and alarm preferences. Users of TravAlarm can set up to three different transit routes for the app to monitor for delays. When a delay occurs on one those three routes, the alarm will wake the commuter up at the predetermined earlier time with a voice message describing the delay and its location.