Free WiFi could soon be coming to TTC streetcars and buses
A new TTC initiative is in the works that, if all goes well, will make you feel a lot less wary about streaming videos on your phone the entire way home.
More importantly, it would give residents of low-income Toronto neighbourhoods continuous access to information and resources available only through the internet, boosting equality and inclusion across the city.
A motion set to be considered by the TTC Board today requests that commission staff develop a plan to "implement a free WiFi pilot program to the surface network of busses and streetcars servicing all 31 Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIAS) and Higher Education Institutions."
If the plan works and is approved, the pilot would see free WiFi access become available on buses and streetcars in areas of the city where Toronto is actively working to strengthen social, economic and physical conditions through its Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy (TSNS).
WiFi would also be rolled out on TTC vehicles servicing college and university campuses, with an option to expand the free service to all surface routes, if the pilot proves successful.
While free internet access has been available to customers at all 69 TTC subway stations since 2018, the motion states that people in 24 of Toronto's 31 NIAs rely solely on the bus and streetcar network to get around.
Subway stops aren't available in these 24 at-risk neighbourhoods, meaning that neither is TTC-provided WiFi.
"In 2017, City Council identified accessible internet connectivity as a priority for economic development and social equity, unanimously adopting the Toronto Broadband Study, which includes the recommendation to 'leverage existing city assets to improve speed, coverage and capacity,' among others," reads the motion, moved by TTC commissioner and longtime public servant Alan Heisy and seconded by commissioner Jennifer McKelvie.
"In recognizing that all Toronto residents deserve continuous connectivity, the TTC needs a contemporary and coordinated WiFi program that reaches every community throughout the city."
It's not an unreasonable ask, given that free WiFi access is already available on public transportation surface networks in major North American cities such as Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Atlanta and San Francisco.
It also wouldn't cost Toronto anything if the service is paid for, as suggested in the motion, through "provincial and federal funding for accessible and affordable WiFi to create resilient communities."
Furthermore, based on commissioner Heisy's track record, it's likely that the Board will, at the very least, approve the creation of a plan for such a program.
Over the course of his political career, the Toronto lawyer has played a leading role in creating the first network of physically separated bicycle lanes in the Toronto, in saving the Oak Ridges Moraine from development, in making Toronto the first city in North America with solar-powered pay-and-display parking, and in significantly increasing the supply of bicycle parking downtown.
Free WiFi on public transit vehicles for low-income residents of Canada's largest city might just be next on his long list of civic accomplishments.
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