By Kate Dominus, Counsel and Commercial Contracts Manager, Transit Wireless

Sustainability of any building project is difficult; but what if you are building an ever-expanding connected network of fiber — 80-110 feet underground, subject to tremendous environmental factors (such as moisture, dust and extreme fluctuations in temperature), and limited to select hours for repairs? Transit Wireless’ P3 partnership with the MTA guarantees that we maintain and grow such a network during our 27-year partnership. Learn more in the first of our 3-part P3 blog series about how we successfully create, improve, and future-proof our cellular and Wi-Fi network underground.

Transit Wireless (a BAI Communications majority owned company) had the opportunity to attend, participate and sponsor the P3 Summit & Awards on January 31, 2018. During the event, we discussed the challenges and opportunities in forming P3 relationships with government agencies, and identified how they differ from the traditional government/contractor relationship.

Transit Wireless currently has a P3 contract with the MTA to build a WiCom Network throughout their subway system. There are a variety of differences between P3 relationships and the traditional government/contractor relationship — the greatest being the partnership element. In a P3, the government agency (public) and the business (private) both have a vested interest in the success of a project. An excellent example is Transit Wireless’s own contract with the MTA, which not only stipulates that we build the WiCom Network, but also requires that we continue to run it and meet certain acceptable standards. Transit Wireless had a legal commitment to construct a network that would not only meet the current needs or basic standards the government wanted or at the time of first build, but to ensure it continues to meet the needs of New York City Transit for decades to come.

In addition to service delivery meeting P3 requirements, Transit Wireless needs to stay abreast of all current and updated federal, state, and local requirements for the government entity they are servicing. This can include items not normally considered when contracting with a standard customer, including: increased health and safety requirements, procurement requirements, diversity requirements from suppliers, and additional standards and duties of care. Most recently, concerns about privacy, network neutrality, and the financial obligations of the private partner have been added to a list of ever-changing needs— each of which to be carefully considered in our future network developments.

Public/Private Partnerships (P3s) are a newer and still evolving method of contracting with government entities. Normally, a government agency seeking to introduce a new service or project takes the following steps:

  • Identify the service
  • Seek funding from the legislature or city government to fund the service or project
  • Create a procurement process
  • Identify vendors
  • Create an RFP/RFI document to allow people to bid on the project
  • Select a supplier (generally the lowest bidder)

In non-P3s, after the bidder completes the project and the government agency signs off on the work, the bidder is absolved of all obligations to the project. The structure of the 27-year contract as a P3 Transit Wireless has, however, guarantees that our company will engineer the system to a more forward-looking standard then a traditional vendor might.

While working with a government agency, it must also be remembered that whereas most private companies are willing to take on an element of risk in order to drive a future reward, government agencies are typically far more risk-averse, because it directly impacts government constituents and taxpayers. Lawyers working on both the public and private sides of a P3 meanwhile, must acknowledge the competing interests of their relative clients and come to a mutual understanding regarding the level or risk that can be assumed. As a result, a significant amount of risk mitigation (usually unnecessary for a traditional client) is included into the P3 contract in order to ensure that the government agency is property protected from any additional risk. Because Transit Wireless is contracted as an ongoing P3 vendor for the MTA, we anticipate the complexities involved in building and maintaining a WiCom system in the New York subway, and are always forward-thinking in our design work.

From the onset of the build, every aspect of our system has been carefully designed to be constructed, safeguarded and continuously approved upon. An example of our future-planning includes deployment of rugged hardware to handle the fluctuating environment of the subway. Transit Wireless chose convection-cooled, hardened LAN switches capable of withstanding military and industrial grade shock tests (a design already deployed in several other innovate and challenging transportation projects globally). This hardware was specifically chosen for its ability handle high traffic density and wide-ranging peaks in demand. In addition, these switches harness intelligent traffic management, have 10Gig uplinks and link aggregation to increase throughput, adding extra layer of redundancy to the network.

As for the safety and reliability of our cyber-network, recent security issues in other transit systems such as the widespread distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and other ransomware outbreak have made IT security an industry-wide priority. The rugged hardware we have in place also protects our network from cyber-attacks. Other examples of our successful forethought include the installation of HD displays and Help Point intercoms that are rolled out into stations as the network expands. Our upcoming tunnel testing in order to provide consumers with uninterrupted service throughout the entirety of their journey further shows our commitment to our P3 partnership with the MTA.

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