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What Are the Pros and Cons of Cell Phone Service on Subway Platforms?

Phone and internet access is bound to be a mixed bag.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/fillinmyblanks/7417824256/"}Fion N.{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/pool/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

The TTC is considering hiring a contractor to bring cell-phone service to subway platforms, as we learned earlier this week. While nothing is final yet—the TTC’s board will discuss the proposal on Wednesday, and even if they approve it, the work probably won’t be done for two years—it’s not unreasonable to expect that all of us will, at some point in the not-too-distant future, be checking Twitter while waiting for our trains. The TTC has been working on bringing cell access to platforms for years.

It doesn’t hurt that this proposal will be easy for Toronto politicians to like, at least from a financial standpoint. The prospective provider of all the equipment, Broadcast Australia Pty Ltd., would actually be paying the commission $25 million over 20 years. The idea is for the company to make back its money by charging cell carriers for access to the network.

That’s all to the good, but there is an unanswered question in all of this: Do we necessarily want or need cell-phone access while we’re underground?

See below for a list of some of the pros and cons, as they occurred to us.

(Some ideas were suggested by Torontoist contributors and commenters. Those are marked with names.)

Pro:

  • Obvious, but important: There will no longer be any need to leave a subway platform in order to fire off some kind of urgent message. Commuters will never again need to choose between being late for a meeting, or making themselves even later by dashing up to surface level to call and make an excuse.
  • We’ll be able to use Rocket Radar and NextBus in stations, finally. Smartphone users will know exactly how fast they need to jog up escalators in order to make their surface connections.
  • Similarly, the TTC might be able to push out its own service alerts to subway riders’ smartphones. [Suggested by Laurence Lui]
  • QR codes on subway advertisements will actually serve a purpose. [Suggested by Laurence Lui]
  • The average wait for a subway probably falls somewhere in the three- to five-minute range. That also happens to be the length of many YouTube cat videos.
  • Internet access might make it easier to arrange subway flashmobs. [Suggested by Rachel Lissner]
  • If anything terrible happens on a subway platform late at night, we’ll no longer have to pray that those little wall-mounted intercom things actually work.
  • We’ll be able to see and share breaking news while underground. [Suggested by Stephanie DePetrillo]
  • Torontonians will have one fewer excuse to continue travelling in cars when it’s not absolutely necessary. [Suggested by Paul Kishimoto]

Con:

  • Obvious, but important: platforms will be louder than they currently are. The zen-like silence of a midmorning subway wait will be shattered, probably forever.
  • Just as we’ll be able to make urgent calls, we’ll also be able to receive them. The final respite from the 24-hour news and work cycle will be gone.
  • The contractor will have to negotiate with carriers individually, meaning some cell phones may not work on platforms even after the whole system is up and running. [Suggested by Rachel Lissner]
  • Internet access might make it easier to arrange subway flashmobs. [Suggested by Rachel Lissner]
  • The risk of terrorism on the TTC may increase slightly, because cell phones can be used to activate explosives. [Suggested by Laurence Lui]
  • Riders will no longer be able to use “I’m losing reception” as an excuse for ending a conversation. [Suggested by Stephanie DePetrillo]
  • People talking on cell phones may be less aware of their surroundings, which could lead to subway-related injuries. [Suggested by James D Paterson]

If any other pros or cons occur to you, leave them in the comments. We’ll add them to the post, with credit to you, if they seem plausible.

And then, in a few years, maybe we’ll see who was right.

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