Cell service approved for Muni Metro subway

Muni riders who have had to hang up their cell phones upon entering the subway tunnel because of a lack of cell service will soon able to continue their conversations.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors approved a communications agreement with the Bay Area Rapid Transit District to allow BART to enter into license agreements with cellular carriers on behalf of the SFMTA to extend BART’s fiber and cellular structure into Muni Metro.

The term is for 15 years with two five-year options, which will begin after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approves the agreement. BART’s Board of Directors may also need to approve the agreement.

Those carriers include AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Metro PCS and T-Mobile, which already use BART’s underground cellular infrastructure making it one of the first carrier-neutral underground cellular networks in the nation.

SFMTA documents show that the transit agency conducted a feasibility study in 2015 with BART to see if existing cellular infrastructure could be extended to Muni’s subway. The study showed that it was doable and that it was best for BART to negotiate the agreements for the SFMTA with he cellular networks.

The SFMTA will also receive a portion of BART’s annual license payments from cellular carriers including 20 percent of areas controlled by BART and 50 percent of areas controlled by the SFMTA.

Muni riders will not get cell phone service right away. Construction to extend BART’s network into Muni’s subway will take 12 to 18 months once BART reaches an agreement with cellular carriers and once funding from the carriers is secure, according to the SFMTA.