David Cameron has announced a roll out of free WiFi on all trains from 2017.
He was responding to a question from Maria Miller, the former culture secretary and said “I am pleased to announce plans that will see the rollout of free Wi-Fi on trains across the United Kingdom from 2017. The government will invest nearly £50m to ensure that rail passengers are better connected“.
All train companies will be expected to offer free WiFi when bidding for new (or renewing) train operator contacts and where contracts aren’t up for renewal the government will stump up the cash. Funds will be used from the fines levied on Network Rail in 2014 for poor running of the network.
What’s not to like?
This all sounds great, especially in the run up to an election. Surely it’s a vote winner? Free WiFi for everyone, what’s not to like?
Well firstly I doubt very much that “Free” WiFi will be “Free”. We’ve seen how this rolls out with the London Underground network where we were promised “Free” WiFi. It’s only free if you sign up and register with the provider and give them unlimited permission to spam you for the rest of your life. I’m only ever impressed with “Free” WiFi when I can connect without needed to sign up, click a link in my email – free should be connect to the WiFi connection and start surfing with no other restrictions.
Secondly looking back at my last rail journey free WiFi would have been useless. For starters they cancelled my original train. Then when I changed at Reading there was standing room only on the train all the way to Paddington. Coming home I managed to get a train back to Reading only to find that they’d cancelled my ongoing train home and replaced it with a bus. I took a taxi home instead which cost £40 on top of the £55.70 the railways had already relieved me off for a service they didn’t provide.
So imagine how grateful I, or the average commuter, will be with free Wifi whilst standing up squashed against a seat back. Forget trying to balance my laptop in one hand while typing with the other, it’s as much as I could do to check my email on my mobile… which incidentally I did with free (all ready included in my phone contract) 4G.
Forget promising fancy free WiFi for all. If Cameron wants my vote at the next election how about promising (and more importantly delivering) trains that aren’t cancelled, arrive and leave on time. As an added bonus how about also providing a seat to sit on in exchange for the extortionate fifty five quid they charged me for the experience?
Then when they have trains that run on time reduce the fares to a level where it’s actually cheaper to use public transport than it is to simply drive my car and I might use the trains on occasions other then when I intend to have a drink so can’t drive home.