NEW YORK — A New York City subway ride remains, for many, an exercise in gaze aversion. Maps are inspected. Advertisements are read in their entirety. A staring contest with an empty seat can prove preferable to even the briefest human interaction.
And now, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is churning toward a future where travelers will never again be disconnected from their cellphones while onboard.
At a forum on Tuesday, the authority’s chairman, Thomas Prendergast, said that transit officials hoped to add Wi-Fi and possibly cellphone reception aboard moving trains — in what appeared to be the first public acknowledgment that the authority’s ambitions for wireless service went beyond station platforms.
Prendergast said the plans for expanded Wi-Fi and cellphone access was a reaction, in part, to the demands of the growing population of young riders.
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“It is one of the features that the Xers and the Yers and the millennials consider an expectation or an entitlement, not a luxury,” Prendergast said at the gathering, which was hosted by the Citizens Budget Commission.
There is no timeline for a plan, and it is unclear how the project would be financed — or even if the service would be free.
Wi-Fi and cellphone service are already available at dozens of underground stations in Manhattan, including Times Square, Rockefeller Center and Columbus Circle. Construction for that program, with a planned systemwide expansion, is being paid for by Transit Wireless, at an estimated cost of up to $200 million. The company and the transportation authority have agreed to split the revenues from fees paid by wireless carriers and other sublicensees.
The authority has often framed the expansion of wireless access as a safety issue, and some riders agreed that communicating in an emergency was a top concern.
Others have worried, though, about infringements of subway etiquette. Will signs be posted, or announcements recited, to remind riders to be considerate while talking on their phones? Will the authority have to set aside quiet cars?
Kyle Henry, 27, from Brooklyn, wondered if a time-tested excuse for hanging up the phone could be imperiled.
“You never know if someone is really getting on the train,” he said while waiting for a No. 1 train Tuesday. “It’s become such an out.”