Assphalt: Sounder Wifi Sucks, But it May Stop Sucking Soon

Right now, train internet is “an urban legend, like Pizza Rat or Slender Man.”

Hi Assphalt,

I ride the Sounder Train from Auburn. It’s more expensive than the bus, but one the supposed amenities offered is that there is free wifi. However, it never, ever works. And I mean never. How much money does Sound Transit pay for shitty internet that no one can even use?

First off, let us say that you are not alone. Yours is the consummate Sounder wifi experience.

As one rider—found sitting aboard one of the cars that advertised wifi on its exterior—told Assphalt recently when asked if he ever used the train’s wireless: “I quit trying that a loooong time ago.” A mobile hotspot hummed next to his laptop. Another rider, when asked for his opinion of the wifi responded: “Other than ‘It sucks?’”

So the bad news is that the internet does, indeed, suck. The problem seems to be that there are simply too many people trying to access few routers that are connected together with an old data bus wiring system. The other bad news is that, to answer your question, the sucky internet isn’t free. According to figures provided by Sound Transit, the agency paid Verizon Wireless $10,000 in 2015 for the internet service. Clearly, $10,000 is a hot loogie in the cold ocean when it comes to Sound Transit’s $1.3 billion annual budget. You certainly can’t blame the wifi for the pricey ticket. That has a lot more to do with how much Warren Buffett charges us to use his railroad tracks.

But still, $10,000 is $10,000, and getting spotty-at-best internet in exchange for that dough doesn’t seem like the wisest use of transit dollars. To be honest, when Assphalt read about Washington State Ferries doing away with its wifi, we figured the trains wouldn’t be long to follow. With everyone seemingly set up with data plans that allow them to endlessly stream television shows while in transit, what’s the point?

But boy were we wrong.

As it turns out, the cries of the people have risen up to the high throne (er, modest offices in Union Station) from which Sound Transit rules the affairs of men. When we emailed spokeswoman Kimberly Reason about the state of wifi affairs last week, she quickly responded: “I have good news here. Sometime later this year, Sounder passengers will receive improved Wi-Fi.”

Say what? Reason explains that the turning fortunes have to do with new “automatic passenger counters” being installed on all the trains. The new APCs—which keep track of how many people are boarding the trains with electronic sensors—will come with wireless routers. That means that each car will now have its own router.

Reason affirms that people are fed up with the current system—“Sounder riders have been asking over our social media channels for more consistent Wi-Fi connections”—but there is no timeline yet on when the new systems will come online. All that extra internet will cost more, with planners budgeting $34,800 for internet in 2017. So it better be good.

Till then, the train internet will remain as another rider put it: Just an “urban legend, like Pizza Rat or Slender Man.”

Assphalt brings what we’ve convinced our editors is a “fresh” take on Seattle transportation news. Have a question? Email