BART sued after dumping WiFi vendor

A company contracted to provide BART passengers with wireless Internet is suing the transit agency for breach of contract, claiming BART cost them $7 million when it pulled out of a 20-year deal in 2014.

In the lawsuit filed Friday in Alameda County Superior Court, attorneys for WiFi Rail Inc. argue the Oakland-based company spent millions of dollars developing infrastructure to deliver WiFi on BART trains and in stations but the cables and other equipment was disrupted by BART employees.

BART then pulled out of the contract without adhering to the contract provisions, locking the company out of facilities on BART premises, according to the suit.

WiFi Rail wants to resume the project under the previous contract terms, according to the suit.

BART announced the 20-year contract with WiFi Rail in 2009, saying the company had been testing the service for the previous year in four downtown San Francisco stations and more than 15,000 customers had registered to use it.

At the time, the project was headed into the second of five phases, expanding to more stations, and beginning to charge customers for use when previously it had been free. Eventually, the plan was for there to be a free ad-supported option as well as an option that would cost $6 for two hours of use, $9 a day, $30 a month or $300 a year.

But late in 2014 BART announced it was terminating its agreement with WiFi Rail, which by then had expanded to Oakland, but was available in less than 5 percent of BART’s fleet.

A copy of the contract provided in the lawsuit indicates that BART had the option to renew the agreement in 2019 and collected license fees from WiFi Rail. Any problems with the contract needed to be worked out via good faith negotiations between the company and BART, but both had the power to terminate the contract given 30 days notice if the other party could not meet the terms of the contract.

But WiFi Rail argues it was BART that could not meet the contract terms, repeatedly being unable to provide support resources necessary for further building out the system. BART never issued a permit to begin work on the third phase after several delays, according to the suit.

BART hired a consultant to test the existing infrastructure in 2014, but the results were poor because, WiFi Rail argues, some of the system infrastructure had been damaged or disabled by BART employees doing unrelated work.

BART then sent a letter terminating the agreement and changed the locks for WiFi Rail facilities on BART property, according to the suit.

BART officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit Monday.