By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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A Verizon Wireless internet system called “MiFi” is being tested on one bus each on the Forks to Port Angeles Route 14 and the Sequim to Port Angeles Route 30, said Wendy Clark-Getzin, Clallam Transit general manager.
The first day of Internet operation was Aug. 19. Transit officials want to see if riders use it and whether the signal strength is strong enough in the more isolated areas between the county's three largest population centers, Clark-Getzin said.
If the pilot program goes well, a fleet of 14 buses will be outfitted with the mobile Internet hub — five buses on the Forks route and nine on the Sequim route.
So far, drivers are reporting positive results.
“It works really well. People are getting really good signals on the whole route,” said Joe Sutton, a driver on the Forks and Sequim routes.
Buses with the MiFi system have small signs posted with the password to access the system.
The unannounced test caught riders by surprise but has been well-received, the driver said.
“When they notice the sign, you see people pulling out all kinds of gear,” Sutton said.
He said that he has had seven or eight riders using the system at once, and none has reported problems.
“This will work really well when college starts,” Sutton said.
Many students traveling to the Port Angeles campus of Peninsula College have told him that on exam days they skip the bus to drive to have an extra 15 minutes or more of study time before classes or exams.
With Internet available on the bus, students would be able to study for the entire half-hour trip from Sequim, or the hourlong bus-ride from Forks, he said.
The MiFi system is designed to be used by up to 10 wireless devices — including laptops, smart phones, iPods and tablets — at a time and has a strong signal for about 33 feet around the MiFi access point, which is about the length of a bus, Clark-Getzin said.
She said that the system being tested costs $30 monthly per bus, as part of Verizon's government pricing system, and the devices themselves are provided by Verizon for free.
“The operating cost would be a total of $540 per month to reach all commuter runs,” Clark-Getzin said.
If there are problems with weak or dropped signals, a device upgrade is available for about $1,000 to $1,200 per bus, which would be out of the transit system's budget unless there is a very strong rider response, she added.
Clark-Getzin said the decision as to whether to keep the system and add it to more buses depends on the number of people who access it and how well it works.
Passengers on Route 14 and Route 30 are asked to contact Clallam Transit at www.tinyurl.com/lkz7wqc to report how much they are using the system, if the signal is strong and steady and any difficulties they have had.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.