NEW YORK – Add another sound to the symphony of screeches and clatter in New York City's subway system: cell phone chatter.
All 277 underground subway stations — but not the tunnels — would be wired for cell phones and wireless Internet service in the next six years under a plan the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced Wednesday. It still needs approval from the agency's board, but Chairman Peter Kalikow said he supported it and expected other members would join him.
A company called Transit Wireless would pay the $150 million to $200 million cost of wiring the stations, plus about $46 million in fees over 10 years to New York City Transit, a unit of the MTA. Straphangers would be able to use their cell phones only if their carriers signed up for service on the underground network, which Transit Wireless partner Gary Simpson predicted they would.
"There's a need and a demand by riders and customers to use their cell phones down in the stations," Simpson said.
That demand was highlighted when a rainstorm last month caused a subway system meltdown. Some passengers found themselves unable either to get information on the problem or to phone their co-workers and families to explain their whereabouts. Some 2.5 million transit customers were affected by the Aug. 8 flooding.
The MTA also plans to look at possible infrastructure improvements to avoid future flooding problems, such as raising vents at some sidewalk gratings, and redesigning stairwells to keep water out, according to a plan the agency released Thursday.
Almost 5 million passengers ride the subways on an average weekday. The 660-mile system includes 468 stations under and above city streets.