UI Ride Buses Bring Wi-Fi to Local Neighborhoods in Need

Apr 23, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of our lives.

For most families with school-aged children it meant a rapid transition to remote/eLearning and the need for enhanced internet access, but this resource isn’t always readily available.

In Champaign-Urbana, the university was able to help fill this gap when the UI Ride shuttle service between the Urbana and Chicago campuses was temporarily suspended due to the virus outbreak. Realizing the Wi-Fi-enabled vehicles were available to provide a new service during this period, F&S partnered with Technology Services and the University of Illinois System to take UI Ride vehicle to neighborhoods in need of internet access; the free service will run through at least May 1 (EDIT: through at least May 29).Mohamed_Pete_Denver_Ryan

Once in a neighborhood, the vehicles park in highly visible spots. Community members can easily connect to the university’s mobile network by coming within 60-foot of the shuttle. This large Wi-Fi zone allows people to remain in nearby cars or to set up in adjacent spaces, so they can access the network while still obeying social distancing techniques to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Said Pete Varney, associate director of Operations, Maintenance & Alterations, Transportation & Automotive Services, “We are committed to supporting our entire community as we navigate through these extraordinary times. If this effort to provide free, reliable, and secure internet helps children and their parents, it will be worth it.”

The shuttle locations focuses on areas identified by Champaign Unit 4 School District, Urbana School District #116, and community organizations, where digital access may be unavailable or limited for students needing to complete e-learning coursework. The service also provides greater opportunities for families to perform essential online activities as necessary.

Presently, the vehicles go to Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park, Douglas Community Center, Ivanhoe Estates, Northwood Estates, and Woodland Acres.

 “I am thankful that both the university and F&S have a strong desire to help the community,” said Brad Trankina, director of Information Technology Services. “This project went from an idea to a service actively helping the community in less than a week, thanks to many across the university joining the effort.”

Please refer to the updated shuttle schedule here for current locations and times: https://fs.illinois.edu/community-wifi.