I like traveling to Europe because it reminds me that technology can combine with public services in ways we will not see in the U.S. for 30 years. Yesterday it was a magic button that made a taxi appear in seconds. Today it was a bit of wasted time that led to two discoveries, one of which was that I wasted time.
My business colleague and I, used to very long lines to get paper train tickets as well as some predictions about our cognitive abilities at 5:15 tomorrow morning, decided to swing by the local train station to get our airport express tickets. It turns out, they don't use them. You simply swipe your credit card at a small kiosk and—bam—you have a ticket good for six months.
In other words, we could have simply walked to the train station tomorrow morning, swiped our cards, and climbed aboard, without waiting in line and without getting a paper ticket.
My colleague, having noticed that coming in from the airport no one challenged us for our tickets, asked, "how does that even work?"
I thought about it and realized that in Norway, very few people steal public services. Also the conductors have handheld computers that can read credit cards and match them with pre-payments.
Imagine if Metra did that. It might be convenient. Or if Metra and the CTA could get their asses moving on making Ventra cards good for both. It might wind up being something like the Clipper Card in San Francisco, a transit card that works on most public transport.
The basic point is, how much lost productivity do we have in the U.S. because we under-fund public services to the point where they can't invest in cost-saving technology? And what will it take to get Americans to stop voting for people like Bruce Rauner, who is guaranteed to try starving Chicago-area public transport for four more years?