How San Francisco Commuters Consume Media on Their Way to Work on BART

Sunrise BART

This morning I decided to conduct a very unscientific survey of BART riders from Oakland to San Francisco to see how they consume media on their morning commute. I boarded my usual 9 car BART train at MacArthur BART station in Oakland and exited at Embarcadero Station in San Francisco. During my commute I started at the back of the train and walked through about six full cars of the train and documented what each passenger was doing on the train.

I wanted to do this survey to get a rough idea of how much old media vs. new media was being consumed on my morning commute.

All in I surveyed 239 passengers in six cars. Most all of the passengers were sitting down in seats.

Below is a breakdown on how these 239 passengers were spending their time on BART this morning.

Doing Nothing 112 = 47%
Reading a newspaper 31 = 13%
Reading a book 31 = 13%
Using a mobile device 30 = 12%
Other 16 = 7%
Reading a Magazine 12 = 5%
Using a laptop computer 4 = 2%
Using a Kindle 2 = 1%

Personally I was surprised that so many of the people on BART were simply doing nothing (this included sleeping as well). In the other category was just random stuff generally not associated with consuming media. This included people doing paperwork, a few women putting on makeup, and one woman knitting. I suspect you’d find less people sleeping on an evening train home than in the morning train on the way to work.

I was also surprised at how few people were using laptops. I use a laptop almost every single day on the commute to process photos if I can get a seat. I was also surprised to only see 2 passengers using Kindles, given all of the hype that seems to be built around that device. In total, in fact, only 15% of passengers were using “new media” devices. This makes me think that old media publishing may in fact have a longer lifespan left than we’ve given them.

It should be noted that although a paid wifi service has been announced for BART, at present it is not in operation. In general I’m able to get an AT&T signal on my own iPhone on this commute about a third of the time while the commute is above ground. When the commute is in the tunnels below Oakland and below the San Francisco Bay there is no signal. I suspect new media devices could possibly go up if/when wifi is introduced. Then again, as it stands now, BARTs wifi plan seems really expensive and this may prohibit use.

One of the 30 people using a mobile device in my numbers was me as I was using my iPhone to tabulate what people were doing as I walked through the train.

10 Reasons Why I Think the New BART Wi-Fi 20 Year Contract and Plan are a Bad Idea

How Deep Can You Go?

Rachel Gordon is out with an article over at the San Francisco Chronicle about a new 20 year contract signed by BART with some company called Wi-Fi Rail Inc. to offer wifi on the service. Rachel interviewed me for the article and I’m quoted in it about my thoughts about the service. I thought I’d take a second though to elaborate on BART’s new plan for wifi service.

1. $9 a day?!?!?! You’ve got to be f$%$^ing kidding me. That’s more than it already costs to ride BART a day. Similarly, $30 a month? Not thanks. I like my wifi as much as the next cat, but that’s just too expensive. I’m in a higher than average income range for BART riders and there’s no way in hell I’d pay that much money. Between paying to park at BART parking lots, increased BART ticket charges, and now super expensive wifi, it just won’t fly. Who does BART think they are in charging those high wifi connection rates? Holiday Inn or something. You expect to get fleeced when you pay for wifi at the hotel, but not on BART.

2. A 20 year contract seems like an incredibly stupid thing to commit to for any technology services period. Why not a 2 year or 5 year or if they must 7 year contract. Locking BART into a 20 year plan when technology is bound to improve in that time seems like a bad idea. Who’s negotiating these contracts anyways, government bureaucrats and politicians?

3. “BART riders in the future will be able take advantage of free Internet access – but with a catch. Access will be cut off after 3 1/2 minutes and the users will have to endure 30 seconds of ads before being able to surf the Internet.” Are you kidding me? At least in the beta program that I tested out on the system it took 3 1/2 minutes just to log on to their system (you had to relog on every time you used it — hello BART, there are these things called internet cookies, they’re yummy and can allow people not to have to resign on over and over and over again every single time). A lot of the time the system wouldn’t log on for me at all. Now, granted that was beta, but there is no way I’m going to go through a tedious sign on program and then 30 seconds of ads to surf the web for 3.5 minutes.

4. the 3G on my iPhone works in the above ground areas of BART as well as the underground areas near downtown. Tell me again why I’d pay that much money for just a wee bit faster connection.

5. Why am I going to pay $30 per month for BART wifi when most of the time I can’t even get a seat? Have you ever tried surfing the web with a laptop while standing up BART. Well… have you? Seats are next to impossible to get during commute hours unless you happen to start your commute out at the end of the Pittsburg Baypoint line in Antioch or wherever the hell it starts.

6. Why am I going to pay $30 per month for BART wifi when I’m already starting to take BART less because I can get a ride to and from work using casual carpool for free? BART’s getting more and more expensive which is driving people away from it. My iPhone works the entire trip while on casual carpool by the way.

7. “The company reported seamless service between the stations, even as the trains ran at high speeds,” says the article. Well, not if you count going from the Powell Street Station to the Embarcadero Station in my own experience using the service.

8. Why not try to at least in part work with one of the major telco providers here? I get free wifi at Starbucks because I use AT&T. Let the carriers subsidize some of the cost by letting their users have free or reduced fee service on the system. Didn’t Google want to put free wifi in all of San Francisco before our idiot SF politicians chased them away? Did anybody talk to Google before hatching this plan?

9. It sounds like, at least initially, the service will only serve downtown SF, the tube and downtown Oakland. These are the shorter commutes and the people less likely to pay up. The people more likely to pay are the ones with the longer commutes who are more likely to both get a seat and have longer time on the train to enjoy that free wifi service.

and finally…..

10. What good is free wifi on the BART system if the BART cops are just going to shoot you anyways. (ok, that was a really cheap shot and has nothing to do with this wifi service but I couldn’t think of another good reason why I don’t like the service and a 9 reason list isn’t nearly as cool as a 10 reason list.)

To check out my photos of BART click through here.