I’ll be paying more attention than usual to my incoming mail over the next several weeks. Normally there’s not much of anything interesting — mostly just additions to the recycling bin. Last weekend however, I dared to drive across the Illinois state line and into a technology minefield. No traffic laws were violated to my knowledge — or at least intentionally — but I had several encounters that may prove costly.
After depositing more than enough coins to cover the $1.90 toll into the tollway on-ramp machine for my eight-mile stretch of road, the light remained red. A closer look revealed the coin chute was jammed — full of coins from previous depositors — so I wasn’t the first or likely the last to trigger the scofflaw camera at the booth. Further down the road, the speed limit was suddenly reduced from 65 to 45 mph, with a sign warning of speed cameras and $375 fines. After exiting the tollway I drove through intersections with red light cameras, not giving any cause to trigger one. Is a notice of violation and invitation to bolster Illinois’ finances in the mail, heading my way?
A transit option would have been preferable to driving in the northern Illinois suburbs, but that wasn’t available Sunday morning as it is within Chicago. In the transit world, newly implemented technologies mostly assist travelers and agency management. Riders equipped with their ever-present smartphone — now the Swiss army knife of everyday life — can use friendly apps to minimize inconveniences and make efficient use of a transit system. Management systems have been transformed by applying proven technologies, such as GPS and wireless to agency operations.
What will be the next major adaptation in transit agency technology? Mike Karlskind, in his Clickipedia blog, “Can the MBTA Improve Operations Through Service Chain Optimization?” calls for the agency to equip all field personnel with smartphones or tablets. The cost is high in a time of budget crisis, but, as Karlskind states, “It’s been demonstrated that if employees are able to immediately access back-office information, such as work orders or maintenance logs, productivity increases, and there’s greater chance that the job will be completed on the first attempt. Replacing outdated technology (radios and cell phones) with tablets and smartphones enables real-time capture of information in the field, which will enable better monitoring of the workforce.”
When workforce and fiscal resources must be fully optimized, having the technology to quickly prioritize tasks, exchange data and get the job done is a necessity, not an extravagance. And although mobile tools don’t directly generate revenue, they produce efficiency.
Let’s hope that camera in Illinois recorded that I paid my toll, and that all states find the revenue for technology that leads to accuracy and greater efficiency.