Talk is cheap. Especially if a consortium of phone companies is willing to pay millions on technology to upgrade cell service for commuter railroad riders.
The MTA Board voted to accept largesse offered by Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel. Those companies get the chance to ensure crisp cell service from Grand Central all the way through tunnels to 125th Street and beyond. No dropped or interrupted calls. Millions more minutes used.
The MTA gets free technology that will also allow for better radio communication between emergency workers. Riders get, well, the chance to sit next to other riders who are chattering away from one end of the ride to the other.
"People talk too much and they talk too loud on the phone. I don't want to hear what's going on in your bedroom," said Michael Kaye on his way home to Riverdale Wednesday afternoon.
Metro-North's senior director of facilities and marketing Randy Fleischer says it's a win-win for riders. They get phone convenience and the MTA gets cash to limit fare increases, "about $24 million in financial benefits at a time when things are fiscally tight here," said Fleischer.
Some riders are peeved now about dropped calls. How frustrated? "I'm going to say VERY," vented Wendy Ludke.
But rider Lauri Regan of Irvington says if some fellow riders want a cell phone universe, then the MTA should set aside special quiet cars for those who opt out of commuter electronics.
"Every blue moon you'll hear them announce 'please be considerate of those around you.' But not too many people respect that.," said Regan.
The MTA will consider what could be a more popular plan in May to bring on-board WiFi service to all Metro-North and Long Island Railroad trains.