SacRT teamed up with the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and the City of Sacramento to turn buses into free wireless super hotspots in communities with limited high-speed internet access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Testing for the 60-day proof of concept begins today, with the first three “WiFi Buses” going live on Monday, May 4, to promote opportunities for distance learning, telework and telehealth. Seven additional buses will be deployed to more “digital desert” communities across Sacramento beginning the week of Monday, May 11. Each bus will provide 3½ hours of wireless broadband services at two locations each day, with updated schedules available at thewifibus.com.

The 10 repurposed WiFi Buses are outfitted with combinations of equipment provided free of charge by proof of concept partners Aruba, AT&T, Cradlepoint, Sierra Wireless, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, to offer high-speed connectivity with a range of up to 1,800 feet.

Super hotspot locations and protocols will be determined in collaboration between the City of Sacramento, CalSTA, Sacramento Public Library, SacRT, Valley Vision and public health officials. High-need locations will be selected with input from local school districts, community organizations and digital divide research, as well as the ability for users to maintain physical distancing and follow public health guidelines. The Sacramento Public Library will provide bus parking at its branches and robust online resources for students to access when connected to the WiFi Bus network.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced the project on April 20 as part of the state’s efforts to support distance learning and close the digital divide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately one in five students in California lack high-speed internet access and nearly half of all low-income households in the state do not have broadband service at home.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the buses are an important innovation to enable more children to participate in distance learning while out of the classroom. “These mobile WiFi Bus hotspots will help remedy the lack of internet access that threatens to leave thousands of our students farther behind. I thank all of the partners who worked to make this happen, and I hope to see it replicated on a larger scale around California.”

“We are proud to be able to use our buses to help kids across the Sacramento region get the internet connection they need to continue their education through distance learning,” said SacRT General Manager/CEO Henry Li. “I’m pleased that SacRT is still able to contribute to closing the achievement gap whether it’s through free Wi-Fi enabled buses or fare-free transit.”

Schedules and locations for The WiFi Bus between Monday, May 4 and Friday, May 8 are available at thewifibus.com. Starting Monday, May 11, the WiFi bus will be available seven days a week.