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Labour calls for free Wi-Fi on trains

Just in Scotland. Shrug

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The Scottish Labour Party is calling for trains and buses to offer free Wi-Fi, following the tradition of parties not in power of calling for impractical, but populist, measures.

The idea is to get people out of cars by improving public transport, and skips over the fact that public transport in Scotland is run by private companies who make their own decisions about internet connectivity, not to mention the basic impossibility of providing back-haul for every bus in Scotland.

Not that these problems faze John Park, Economy and Skills spokesman for Scottish Labour, who is quoted by the BBC as saying: "This is a sensible measure that would be good for the economy and good for the environment."

Part of the problem with getting drivers into buses and trains is that cars are very comfortable, and generally suited to the driver, so replicating that experience on the train or bus is difficult. Offering the chance to catch up on EastEnders while taking the bus to work would be a competitive advantage - but that's up to the companies running the transport systems, not the government of the day, nor its opposition.

The idea of mandating Wi-Fi on every bus in Scotland is clearly laughable, as should be obvious to anyone who's travelled north of Edinburgh. Existing systems on trains, such as the Heathrow Express, use WiMAX to back-haul from the moving train to track-side boxes every few miles, which are then connected over ADSL to the internet. Even replicating that on every train line would be prohibitively expensive, and while buses equipped with tracking satellite dishes would be amusing to watch, it's hard to imagine what kind of application would justify the cost.

The Scottish Government reckons it's already looking at "innovative ideas" to get more people onto public transport, and is examining the business case for insisting ScotRail implement Wi-Fi, but it's a stretch to imagine even that's going to make sense outside the cities. ®

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