Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman announced today that more than 400 PAT buses now have free Wi-Fi, and the rest of the county’s bus and light rail fleet will have it by early next year.

“We’re excited to be able to make investments like this that improve our customer’s comfort and riding experience,” Kelleman said. “Free Wi-Fi will better connect passengers who are on the go and start to bring our system into the future.”

The free Wi-Fi service on Pittsburgh’s buses comes as part of what the Port Authority calls “a necessary upgrade of previously existing modems that were used to broadcast vehicle location and other communications information.”

The upgrade has a $2.4 million initial cost and will run the Port Authority about $400,000 a year to maintain. Earlier this year, the county added 59 new buses equipped with USB ports for charging mobile devices.

USB outlets on the city’s new buses give riders a chance to charge their devices while traveling. Photo courtesy of the Port Authority.

How good is the service? It’s talk-to-your-friends fast. But it’s not exactly watch-Netflix-on-the-way-to-work fast.

“The signal is about as fast as 4G LTE,” the agency said, “allowing customers to surf the web and check email, but probably not fast enough for large downloads or high-definition video streaming.”

Port Authority Chief Information Officer Jeffrey Devlin said the free Wi-Fi may be especially useful to riders from underserved communities: “Free Wi-Fi, much like public transit, can open up a world of opportunity,” he said.

For now, vehicles with free Wi-Fi will be marked with a sticker near the front doors.

Next year, Port Authority will add a mobile payment application to let customers to pay fares via smartphone. They are also working with cellular service providers to improve connectivity in the underground portions of the light rail system where reception is currently spotty or absent.

To log on, riders can choose “PAAC WIFI” and won’t need a password. There is no limit on time usage, but the Port Authority does have a few common sense requests: Please don’t download huge files, because bandwidth is limited and shared among riders.

And if you’re watching video or listening to music, use earbuds or headphones.