Atlantic Cities

Subway Internet Access Is on the Rise, Except in America

Subway Internet Access Is on the Rise, Except in America
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Increased productivity is one of those arguments people make about commuting on transit. On a bus or a train, you can work, read, draw or do whatever it is that you probably shouldn’t do while driving a car.

But with more and more work being done online, internet access is an increasingly important factor. If you’re on a subway but can’t send an email, the productivity incentive may drop out of your transit calculations. Through Internet-connected phones, transit has de facto accessibility. But when trains go underground, that accessibility is often lost.

However, some transit systems are making sure that riders can get connected, even in the depths of subway tunnels. According to a new study, Internet access is on the rise in subway systems all over the world. The New Cities Foundation surveyed the 121 subway systems in cities of more than 750,000 people and found that riders can access the Internet on 59.5 percent, or 72, of them.

Only highlights of this survey are available online, and the data is only broken down by region, but the differences between regions are pretty stark. Asia is leading the world, with 84.4 percent of its subways accessible. South Korea and China are at 100 percent, and Japan’s not far behind at 87.5 percent.

The Middle East is the second-best performing region, with 66.7 percent of its subways accessible. Latin America and the European Union countries are at 57.1 percent and 56.3 percent, respectively. The U.S. and Canada are second-to-last with 41.2 percent. Central Asia and non-EU countries have just 25 percent accessibility.

It’s not too surprising to see the U.S. so low on this list, as public transit falls comparably low on our list of priorities. Things may be changing, but even the best subway system in the U.S. – New York City’s – rolled-out cell service below ground only recently. It’s only in four stations, but it’s a start.

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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