GREENFIELD — A medium-sized bus from the Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) fleet sat in the northern parking lot of Patriot Park last Friday, not to pick up passengers, but to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for anyone who came in need of free internet.
The April 17 setup was a test to work out operation details as MST and the City of Greenfield partner to bring internet access to area residents.
The program was started in order to bridge the digital divide due to shelter-in-place orders as a result of COVID-19, which has caused many aspects of life to go virtual. Everything from telework for adults and distance learning for students, to virtual government meetings and telehealth to speak with doctors, all require a computer and internet access.
“From the comfort of your own vehicle, you can show up, do your homework, do a Zoom meeting if you need to, or fill out your Census form,” said Yanely Martinez, who is Greenfield’s mayor pro tem and also a board member for MST.
Martinez said she interacted with about a dozen residents who showed up to the parking lot, while other people parked their cars on the street side.
Oak Avenue Principal Sonia Aramburo posted on Facebook, “We are thrilled that some of our students used the hotspots yesterday from MST to catch up with their i-Ready minutes.”
The Patriot Park operation on Friday was a test to see how many people showed up, what the range was for the signal and how an area the size of Patriot Park could handle the response.
“It’s our largest park, and with that comes the parking spaces,” said Jesus Perez, the city’s recreation coordinator. “It’s perfect for something like this, where people can just drive up and use the internet from the comfort of their cars. And, for walk-ins, we have a lot of chairs inside the building.”
Perez noted those who did not have cars had the option to walk to the park and then use chairs that were sanitized and placed 6 feet apart, following CDC guidelines for social distancing.
Health guidelines were in effect, Perez explained, as drivers were expected to keep their distance from others and to only bring people who needed to use the internet. He also reminded people if they were sick, to stay home.
“We’re going to be doing this for a long time, so once you feel better, you can come back,” Perez said.
Also practiced were procedures for what to inform the public about.
“When people come over here, we know what to tell them, how to connect, how to use the Wi-Fi, how big of a hotspot it is and where they can park,” Perez said.
Martinez said everyone she observed, and feedback she received after the event, indicated that there is much need for this service.
“We want to make it very accessible to the community,” Martinez said. “There’s a high demand. A lot of kids were calling me and parents were calling me.”
Future times have not been planned, but are in the works between the city and MST.
“We’re thinking of having it at least three days out of the week at different locations so we could reach everybody in the City of Greenfield,” Martinez said.
Also in the works are possible plans for other towns, as Martinez noted herself and County Supervisor Chris Lopez have been informed of need for such services in areas like San Ardo.
To be figured out are the parking needs for a bus, and availability of spare around it for people to arrive and use the internet.
“We don’t want to have people crowded,” Martinez said. “We really want to be mindful and keep everybody safe. We want them to keep a good distance.” She added, “We want to provide you with free Wi-Fi and we want to keep you safe.”