Tyler A. Green

In Transit

Category: Reflections

I’m a Millennial and I Don’t Expect WiFi on Buses

MTA’s new fleet of buses will have WiFi! Millennials everywhere rejoice! Or so says the narrative playing out in New York this month.

After New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that more than 2,000 WiFi-enabled buses will hit the streets of New York City by 2020, I am left wondering: WhyFi?

One quote circulating the transit web this week from MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast is particularly interesting: “As more and more millennials enter the system and use it daily, these are expectations, not desires, on their part.” Are they though?

I ride two buses for a total of about 35 minutes each weekday morning. I read books. I read articles on my phone. I write emails. I plan my days. Sure, there have been times where I’ve thought about finishing a nagging programming problem on the bus. The truth is: my overall daily effectiveness is actually higher because of my non-WiFi activities. I schedule that time to finish lingering tasks from the day and catch up on blogs I literally only read while I’m on the bus.

Why can’t there be a different headline headline? “Millennials discover new productivity techniques while riding the bus” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

On the other hand, access to cell signal is an enormous benefit. I was excited when Chicago added cell signal to its underground routes last year. On a 20-minute ride, the benefits from cell signal versus nothing are far greater than those of WiFi versus cell signal only.

Oh, and the two times I’ve decided to use WiFi on the MAX, I was greeted with the following result.

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Even the document error icon looks sad.

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Maybe I forgot to connect to the netwo…nope, that’s not it.

Bad experiences with WiFi on buses

If speedtest.net had ever loaded, I doubt I would have been pleased with its figures.

(At this point in writing this, I conducted a not-quite-full-fledged survey on the 16 bus and asked two people about their MAX WiFi experiences. Jake from An Anxious Extrovert relayed he has numerous underwhelming experiences with the MAX WiFi. “Sometimes a Facebook message will come in, but I can’t read it or reply.” Get the picture? Jake did bring up a fantastic use case I had neglected to consider: those with smart phones but without data plans. (Functional) WiFi on the MAX would give him around 40 minutes round-trip connectivity a day he otherwise goes without. Our nameless seatmate gave a convincing “No!” when we asked if he had gotten the WiFi to work. He asked the driver about this once and the driver even went outside the bus to make a tweak, presumably with the intention of improving the internet access. We digressed to make a full series of jokes about the driver crank starting a dedicated WiFi generator, making subtle hand adjustments to a satellite dish, and even sending HTTP requests manually on behalf of the riders before I remembered our original question. I asked our bus-mate if the internet had worked after the tweak and his response was inconclusive: “I think I got off the bus.” And we’re back…)

I understand that WiFi is not a huge expenditure. Transfort allocates $40,000 a year for WiFi service on the MAX (out of an annual budget of if-I’m-reading-it-correctly $57 million) and it will cost $10.2 million for the MTA. Two things to keep in mind for the MTA: 1) this number also includes installation of USB charging ports and, 2) their annual operating budget is $14.8 BILLION.

Even if an agency can reasonably afford to fund WiFi on buses, the planning and implementation of internet connectivity takes away from improvements on its core mission: to increase urban mobility.

Intercity buses are a different story. When you are in a single seat for more than an hour and don’t have people standing in your face, WiFi offers a real benefit. I have heard of good experiences with the WiFi on Bustang and Express Air Coach, the shuttle my friends used to take between the Chicago airports and Purdue. You could argue this extends to express intracity buses, where passengers remain seated for a longer period of time and there are fewer stops and shuffling inside the bus. I’d be curious to see the average ride length on a NYC express bus verses a non-express bus. Either way, this is not the plan. Cuomo is putting WiFi on the bus you take four blocks after getting off the F train.

From a millennial who loves buses: don’t bother with WiFi. Focus on world-class service and the people will follow.

What do you think about WiFi on buses? Are there any sides to the argument I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

For some solid coverage of the the MTA announcement, I recommend the following:

  • Benjamin Kabak calls the network connectivity on underwhelming bus service, “putting libstick on a pig”.
  • CityLab reports on a TransitCenter study about factors that would increase transit ridership by age. Access to WiFi was 12th out of 12 among those age 30 and above and 9th out of 12 for those below 30. Number one among all ages: trips on transit taking less time.

#TalkinAboutBuses: A Visual History of My Fascination With Buses

It’s hard to trace my interest in public transportation to any single moment, but one certainly stands tall among the rest. The date was Wednesday, February 12, 2014. The location: Fiesta Mexican Grill, on the banks of the Wabash, West Lafayette, Indiana. Before we revisit the modern era timeline, a little blast from the past…


The earliest known artifact of my enthusiasm for public transit is from April 2001. The pictures below were captured on the first of three family vacations to Washington, D.C. I include the second photo because 1) a picture of my dad and a young me on a subway is something I now treasure, and 2) to show I was actually wearing jeans and not just a one-piece Kentucky dress. You can see the pre-Silver Line WMATA map on the wall, the pre-SmarTrip farecard in my hand, and absolutely nothing outside the train window (#subway). And to think we took these photos to finish a roll of film…

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Fast forward more than a decade, and my enthusiasm for transit was beginning to see several key growth points.

I’d made jokes about starting a website called Rapid Transit Fanatic (a spin-off of the wildly unpopular and under-developed Stadium Fanatic). (I have since updated the name of this fictional website to Public Transit Fanatic.)

I’d bought a shower curtain adorned with the WMATA map, the official guide to DC’s metro system (also pre-Silver Line, you’ll notice).

I took a trip by rail to Chicago and even traveled to Minneapolis to experience their light rail and bus system. But on 2/12/14, transit reached a new level for me. One might say the bus left the station.


I was relaying to my friend Hector how I had plans to get coffee with a girl I had met at a recent party. He assumed we had been communicating frequently in the few weeks since meeting.

Hector: So you’ve been talking to this girl?

Me (slowly shakes head): Nope. But! We had a great conversation at the party about public transportation.

Hector (stares at me, tilts his chin down and eyebrows up, flicks his right hand out in a demonstrative manner): You talked about buses???

I almost fell out of my burrito shop chair. Hector is from Florida. To him, “public transportation” meant “buses”. His always-charismatic demeanor shown through in an expression of genuine confusion that would alter the direction of my life. Or at least what I took pictures with.

A few days later, we made a meme of the event.

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The day after that, we practiced meme-ception.

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Hector received loads of positive feedback about the meme from friends and family who had decidedly no idea what it meant. Our friend Calvin picked up the phrase, changed the tense, and made sure we all used it anytime a new subject was brought up. Hang around our group for more than five minutes, and it was likely that you would have heard the following:

So…you’re talkin’ about buses?

We quickly began to use the phrase in loosely-related contexts. As computer engineers, one of my favorites was, “So…you’re talkin’ about on-chip buses?”, referring to one type of communication system within a computer. I also recall being asked, “You’re talkin’ about clydesdales?” and “You’re talkin’ about sidewalks?” at different points. Our variations on a theme emphasized the variation part much heavier than the theme part.


We had developed more than a simple tag line to use lightly in conversation. It had taken on a life of its own.

I began taking pictures with bus signs. (Major props to Calvin for getting the bus in the background…and don’t think it wasn’t intentional.)

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I began getting on random campus bus loops and seeing where they would take me.

I began using buses more when I visited cities, whereas I previously used mostly rail.

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I began riding the bus to work.

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I started a meetup whose recurring event is called “Let’s Talk About Buses“.

And I recently started a YouTube channel where I literally talk about buses.

I still get Facebook comments from friends I never remember talking about buses with that say nothing more than, “So you’re talkin’ about buses?”

So if you have ever seen my tweets or blog posts and wondered what the strange fascination with buses was about, now you know.

Speaking of that, care to talk about buses?

P.S. – Hector will be a guest on an upcoming #TylerTalksTransit episode! Follow along on Twitter or YouTube to learn when you can view it.

An American in Ontario

This essay describes my experience sitting on the boardwalk at Toronto’s Woodbine Beach on Tuesday, September 22, 2015. I was visiting the city to attend a Blue Jays game and appreciate their transit, but I took the following hour or so out of the week to take in my surroundings.

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Woodbine Beach stretches gradually from the boardwalk to the water. Small waves break at the edge of the sand. A man navigates the shoreline on a paddle board. He loses his balance and falls on his back into the shallow water. My attention is reigned in as a woman jogs past my bench on the edge of the boardwalk. She wears a sports bra that is a bit too loose and appears as exhausted as the skin that covers her upper arms. She passes more slowly than expected through my vision from left to right. A black and orange butterfly follows her, fluttering in the light breeze.

I remember a Salinger quote: “She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.” What would that look like? Is there an equally-intriguing metaphor to describe the gulls on the beach?

For a September in Toronto, the weather is perfect. My right arm is sun-soaked, my left wind-swept. My brain combines the two sensations into a single feeling of comfort. I commend the shade tree underneath which I sit on a job well done. Based on my arm’s differing experiences, maybe this is the first time it has been called a “shade tree”.

I cross my legs, right knee over left. Other people who do this seem to be having profound thoughts. Is it causation or correlation? I hope to soon know. I feel no immediate effects, but I tell myself I’m in no hurry. Maybe Eckhart Tolle crossed his legs right knee over left during his two years of sitting on park benches.

A blacktop path runs behind my bench, complementing the boardwalk and beach to complete a 360-degree theatre of urban activity. A couple jogs by on the path, the man pushing a stroller. The woman is going a hair past her comfortable jog-and-talk speed. She exhales deeply between a series of two-word exchanges.

An elderly couple saunters to my right, a bit of distance between them to accommodate their differing gaits. They smile at each other. Each says a single word. I hear neither.

A man wearing a Blue Jays baseball cap strides briskly to my left. The logo which adorns his hat offers a pleasing mix of retro and modern vibes, the two shades of blue that form the jay contrasted nicely by a red maple leaf. Countless fans at the baseball game last night sported the same logo. If I weren’t visiting the home diamonds of all thirty teams in Major League Baseball, I may have bought one. But because I am flying across the country (now countries) to check off my list, I now get to sit on this bench not checking off a list. I intend to achieve spontaneous mindfulness at the beach I discovered on TripAdvisor in between checking my Visa balance and my American Airlines flight details more than a week ago.

Another butterfly flutters several meters in front of me. Then another. They also fly left to right. I look to see which way the wind is blowing. Towards me.

Who will I describe this moment to first? Why do I want to tell someone about this moment? When should I get lunch?

Too-loose-sports-bra jogs by again, this time to the left. A boat takes advantage of the lack of swim ring and drives parallel to the shore. It moves quite near the sand, and I wonder how soon before it is too late a beached whale is aware of its fate.

I don’t see the CN Tower to the left. I remember it is actually to the right. I don’t see it there either. Maybe it’s better this way.

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Two young women pass. Both have straight hair that reaches the top of their backs. Both carry leather bags slung over their left shoulders which rest just behind their right hips. Both wear denim pants which stop several centimeters above their ankles. Both wear sandals which straddle the line between fashionable and functional.

The effect of crossing my legs begins to reveal itself. I can’t feel my right foot.

A dog with a head as small as the rest of its body is big pulls its owner down the jogging path behind me. Who is walking whom?

I count my breath in. One, two, three, four. I count the number of hats worn by people on the boardwalk in front of me. One, two. I count the number of butterflies flying to the right. One, two, three. I count the number people who know I am here.

A mother ambles to my left pushing a stroller with a child onboard. Their smiles are similar, but the child’s does not last. She pushes herself onto her arms and cranes her neck towards the direction from which they came. Maybe they won’t need a stroller next time they visit the boardwalk.

What does it mean to enjoy life? What does it mean to enjoy an hour? Maybe those are actually the same thing.

A white pickup truck drives along the water’s edge. The beach is not topless, so maybe the driver chose this vehicle over a convertible. Or maybe the beach trash patrol completes their rounds approximately midday on Tuesdays.

My window for unstructured time is nearly finished. Will I go to a baseball-themed brewery next or repeat this mindfulness exercise at a city overlook? Which should I do first?

The similarly-dressed women pass again. I now remember I saw them on the streetcar. The one whose sandals are slightly more fashionable than functional has her toenails painted bright pink. They walk in the direction of the beachside cafe to my right. Maybe they are about to sit for some gelato.

I remember I didn’t get carded at dinner last night. Then I remember I ordered poutine and a water.

Is what I feel right now “peace”? It feels more like the absence of anxiety. Maybe those are actually the same thing.

A man with a head of thick white hair walks next to a woman. She is of similar age and complexion, though the dark shade of her hair still complements the tones of her visage. His black leather loafers, faded denim jeans, and worn green and white shirt would not have been out of place on this boardwalk twenty-five years prior. The man’s voice exudes confidence and direction, unlike others on the boardwalk on this day. Maybe he misses conducting his daily business. Or maybe his wife is hard of hearing.

I mentioned this beach to my seat neighbor at the game last night. “I hope you have good weather,” she said. She didn’t say whether the setting is good or bad, only acknowledged its presence. Maybe this moment is the same.

A young couple strolls to my left. Their small dog bounds in front of them, its curly black hair bouncing with each step. Both the man and woman have shirts of tartan pattern with large squares of color. Hers is red and black and she wears it loose and open. His is blue and black and rests on his left shoulder. Maybe she saw a photo of a matching couple on Pinterest this morning and encouraged him to recreate it with her. Or maybe she is cool and he is warm.

I shift on the bench. Have I answered any of my questions? I feel my American passport in the front pocket of my jeans. An image of Gertrude Stein appears in my mind, but I remember I have a booking for a return flight. The last question I asked is the first whose answer I know.

Three middle-aged women dressed for business make their way from the right. One of them is learning the uneven nature of the boardwalk. The handle on her roller backpack is much too short. She reaches down to pick it up for a second time. I stand and walk towards the city.

The next day, I would visit the Toronto Islands and enjoy the stunning view below. On the boardwalk, however, it was just me, the sand, and endless ocean.

Do you have any mindfulness exercises you do while traveling or at home? Let me know in the comments below or contact me.

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