As I stood in the freezing cold listening to the Chicago Transit Authority administrator’s voice fading in and out over the loudspeaker, the barely-understandable voice trying to explain how there’s a fire near the Brown Line track and how the train would be “diverted past the (muffled) stop and would now be (muffled) with a (muffled) train”, I thought to myself: why can’t the CTA just be better? Naturally, I thought W.W.G.D.? What Would Google Do? Here are three reasons why Google should run the CTA:
1. The CTA would have a momentous increase in efficiency and productivity.
Google is currently working to improve the efficiency of their massive data centers, which power their products. Google has been able to reduce “overhead” energy (non-computing energy used for things like cooling and power conversion) in their servers to only 12%. To you non-nerds this probably seems like no big deal, but these processes are redefining the standard for world-wide energy efficiency. Now, let’s think about if we gave Google a year, no better yet a month to figure out what is to be done with the boondoggled CTA Red Line extension project? Do you think they would even need the estimated $1.2 BILLION in taxpayer funds? No, they would probably give it to a team of interns who would figure out how to repurpose used Popsicle sticks to build the extension over holiday break.
2. CTA employees would become the best transit employees in the world.
If you haven’t heard the stories about Google’s employee training and retention programs, like maybe if you’ve been living in a cave under a big rock with your fingers in your ears, read this or this. Let’s not be naïve here – Google offers amazing training for highly-skilled and specialized employees who are at the top of their respective fields. But let’s just assume shall we, that a Google-like employee-to-employee training program was instituted for CTA employees? Or how about if CTA employees were offered the ability to take a free “Intro to Taxes” course, like Google employees are able to? Would morale increase or decrease? Now imagine Google offering ongoing courses and training to CTA employees related to their day-to-day responsibilities – like continued engineering training or classes geared towards improving rider satisfaction.
3. The CTA would utilize cutting-edge technology to improve the rider experience.
Imagine this not-uncommon CTA scenario: You’re a morning commuter. You’re late for work. You walk five blocks through a Chicago polar vortex only to find that there’s “around an hour delay” for your train due to a small fire near the track, as told to you by the under-informed station attendant. Now you have to find an alternate route, keeping in mind that cabs will be full, buses will be jam-packed and late, and there is absolutely no certainty that your train will be up and running any time soon. What a start to the day.
Now imagine this scenario with Google running the CTA: On the way to your Brown line stop, you receive a notification via the Google CTA App that there’s a delay because of a track fire. The app then tells you that wait time is estimated at 15 minutes, sends you a link to a CBS News story about the fire, and provides three alternate routes, including wait times for the closest “22″ Bus and current bus capacity, along with an option to call an UBER driver to your location to drive you to work. Doesn’t sound so bad, right?
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