Digital upgrade

METRO announces free Wi-Fi program for select Houston routes

The city of Houston and METRO announced a pilot program that's getting passengers online. Photo via ridemetro.org

METRO is test driving a new feature for its passengers. Select vehicles on a few routes will come with free Wi-Fi on board.

The transportation organization selected the 54 Scott and 204 Spring Park & Ride bus routes and the Green and Purple METRORail lines for the pilot program — in part because of their vicinity to universities and schools, according to a news release from METRO.

"I'm excited we can bring this service to some of our riders. Be it for work, entertainment or personal business, Wi-Fi allows them to stay connected while in transit and improves the overall customer experience," says METRO Board Chair Carrin Patman in the release.

The pilot program, which will run through mid-January, is being funded by $110,220 from the Microsoft Digital Alliance that includes installation and service for over 40 routers. The public-private partnership is also supported by Synnex Corporation, Sierra Wireless, Tracking for Less and AT&T.

"Bringing connectivity to Houston METRO riders is a step forward in the smart city journey, and Microsoft is proud to partner with the city to bring the pilot program to life," says Cameron Carr, director of internet of things strategy, scale and smart city, from Microsoft Corp, in the release.

The announcement is another piece of Mayor Sylvester Turner's Smart City initiative to bring innovation across the city.

"When we first sat down with Microsoft and METRO as part of the Smart City discussions, the first thing we discussed was how can we make the Smart City initiatives inclusive for all residents," says Mayor Turner in the release. "That is why connectivity for everyone, and more efficient public transit was our priority."

Photo via rideMETRO.org

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Building Houston

 
 

Just after announcing an investment from United, NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc. scored a SPAC-based IPO. Photo via nextrenewables.com

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

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