Dropped calls, lost connections and sputtering phone batteries will soon be a thing of the past on the New York subway system, thanks to efforts to bring the nation's busiest transit system into the 21st century.
Wi-Fi service will be extended to all underground subway stations by year's end, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday. Cellphone service will be offered early in 2017.
Thirty subway stations will get complete overhauls to make them cleaner, safer and better lit. Cellphone charging stations will be installed on subway cars and some 1,500 new Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses.
"It has to be more reliable. It has to be more comfortable," Cuomo said of the transit system during his announcement in Manhattan. "We want people getting out of cars and getting into mass transit. And we want to make that as easy as possible."
The upgrades are part of a $29 billion plan to modernize the MTA system, which also includes subway countdown clocks, mobile ticketing, better signaling and repairs to bridges and tunnels.
"These are vital investments to modernize subways and buses and make the daily commute less awful," said John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, an organization that advocates on behalf of transit users.
The five-year MTA capital plan isn't as ambitious as many transportation advocates had wanted, and won't make up for decades of disrepair. But Lou Riccio, a former city transportation commissioner and past MTA board member, said it's still an "essential" move by Cuomo and the MTA.
"The customer experience must be inviting and pleasant, not like going down into a dungeon," said Riccio, who now lectures at Columbia University and New York University. "This is necessary, but not sufficient. I want to see a commitment for a new subway line every decade ... and a funding source that can make it a reality."
Renovation of the 30 stations will be completed by 2020. Each project is expected to last between six months and a year, and will force some stations to close completely during the work.
Earlier plans had called for renovations at 20 stations, to be done on nights and weekends. By allowing crews to work through the week the work can be done faster, Cuomo said, and at a lower cost.
The announcement came as Cuomo continues to unveil his priorities for 2016 ahead of his state-of-the-state address on Wednesday in Albany. His speech, delivered at the New York Transit Museum, was filled with allusions to New York's engineering past: the Erie Canal, ports, bridges, tunnels, skyscrapers.
"We built this entire place out of bravado, skill and daring," he said. "... That is the DNA we are made from. That is the blood that is in our veins. We are New Yorkers. We don't take no for an answer."
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