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Cell service finally coming to Muni tunnels

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Muni may finally bring cell phone service to tunnels, pending a vote by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Tuesday September 20. (Rachael Garner/Special to S.F. Examiner)

For as long as mobile phones have been in use, Muni train riders have gotten zero reception in its tunnels.

Zip. Zero. Nada. No bars –– no calls.

Now that may change, as a unique partnership may extend BART cell infrastructure into Muni tunnels.

The deal still requires a vote of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors Sept. 20, but was announced Wednesday morning by Board of Supervisors President London Breed and Nick Josefowitz, who sits on the BART Board of Directors.

Both were key in brokering the deal, which may be installed in 12-18 months after agreements are reached with cellular providers.

The cost of the project is perhaps unique in city government, according to Breed and the SFMTA.

“Not only is it not going to cost the city a dime,” Breed said, “we’re going to get paid for this.”

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said that’s because the major cell providers who partner with BART to provide service –– AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, t-Mobile and Metro PCS –– have an incentive to provide service for customers and are willing to pay the cost of installation and maintenance.

Josefowitz said the cost of installation may be about $6 million, tentatively, and Muni cell service would potentially be tied to a data center for cellular service housed in Civic Center station.

The deal may also require further approvals at the BART Board of Directors, Josefowitz said.

But, he added, extending BART’s deal with service providers to Muni was a no-brainer.

“There’s certain places on this planet where you don’t want to have cell service,” he said, “like Yosemite.”

But to not have cell service on Muni –– when getting delayed in a tunnel means you can’t call your family or an employer to say you’re late?

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

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