Commuters grumble at having to pay for Wi-Fi at NJ Transit stations

BY Andrew Schmertz, Correspondent |

It’s free at places like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, even on board Amtrak. But, not on NJ Transit where the Wi-Fi will cost more than a cup of coffee.

“If everyone else can offer it for free, why can’t New Jersey?” asked Bergenfield resident Donna Hamilton.

According to NJ Transit’s website, Wi-Fi is available at more than 100 stations currently, but it’s not free unless you’re a Cablevision customer, which sells the service under the brand Optimum. Those who are not subscribers can get five free days. Then they have to pay $4.99 a day.

At the Metropark station, many riders choose to use their own data plans, rather than fork over any money.

“I don’t have an Optimum account,” said commuter Emily Monahan. “It’s not really fair. I relocated to the D.C. metro area and it is implementing free Wi-Fi. You don’t have to use a service provider or anything. It’s not fair that you have to have an Optimum account.”

Cathy Pelc, a Cablevision subscriber who resides in Bridgewater, also thinks it’s unfair to charge.

“I think that’s an issue. Having it for free would be the best option,” she said.

There may not be many free rides in life, but that’s not the case for Wi-Fi. A growing list of transit systems are providing free internet access for their customers. Those include New York City’s subways, where Wi-Fi is available and free at nearly all stations. Internet access is also free on transit systems in Boston, Miami and Chicago. Americans have seemingly come to expect free Wi-Fi.

“I can go into Dunkin’ Donuts and it’s free. NJ Transit is bigger than Dunkin’ Donuts and they’re charging for people to get on Wi-Fi. I think it’s silly,” said Lou Dibella of Tinton Falls.

Cablevision picked up all the costs for installing the Wi-Fi and pays to maintain it as part of a 20-year contract. The company also decides what to charge. None of the fare goes for the Wi-Fi system. Since the deal was signed, Cablevision was sold to French telecom, Altice.

NJ Transit referred to its 2013 press release announcing the partnership. The agency said it was a competitive bidding process and that the Wi-Fi installation was among the first in the nation. But some riders now wonder why, with so many free Wi-Fi options, a train ticket isn’t enough to get them on the information highway.