Chicago Transit Authority plans to expand underground cell phone coverage

Blue Line trains run both aboveground and underground. Customers can expect upgrades to cell phone service on

Source: Creative Commons

Blue Line trains run both aboveground and underground. Customers can expect upgrades to cell phone service on "L" trains in the near future, the Chicago Transit Authority announced Wednesday.

Sophia Bollag, Copy Chief

Northwestern students may soon be able to stay glued to their smart phones as they head into Chicago on the El.

The Chicago Transit Authority announced Wednesday it is asking wireless companies how it can improve cell phone service on the underground parts of the Red and Blue lines.

Although the CTA already has contracts with all major cellular providers, service can be inconsistent, CTA spokesman Tammy Chase said. 

“Our network is old,” Chase said in an email. “It was installed in 2005, and is in need of significant upgrade to meet the needs of our customers, CTA personnel and emergency responders.”

Chase said it is too soon to say how much the upgrade will cost, how much it may generate in revenue from new contracts with the service providers or how quickly it will be implemented.

The CTA is currently looking for a vendor to undertake the project of updating the old network, which it says generates $1.8 million in revenue from licenses of the service providers. The new network would potentially also generate money for the CTA.

The CTA also suggested the network could bring in revenue by attracting more customers.

“As the quality of the service continues to improve, I am confident more and more passengers will use the system to get to work and school and enjoy their lives,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a news release.

The new network could also increase safety on the trains by improving communication between CTA employees and emergency responders, according to the CTA.

“The quicker CTA and other personnel can respond to a critical situation, the better the outcome for passengers and any victims there may be,” Chase said.

Students had mixed reactions to the CTA’s announcement.

Weinberg sophomore Bisola Sosan questioned whether the proposed upgrade would have a noticeable effect.

“I don’t know how necessary it is,” Sosan said. “I find the service to be pretty good.”

Both Sosan and Weinberg freshman Jim Alrutz said they found cell phone service to be bad only underground.

“The only times I have problems with cell phone service is in underground spots where I don’t expect to have service,” Alrutz said.

However, Alrutz added that he welcomed the prospect of better service on the trains.

“If they could make it happen, that would be fabulous,” Alrutz said.