I grew up in India. One of the realities there was the concept of what we called Indian Standard Time (IST). Everything would happen about 30-45 minutes after it was scheduled. The reason for this was simple. The infrastructure in those days was quite old and one would say a bit decrepit. Old roads. Old rail lines. One airline with old planes. The result of this was breakdowns, malfunctions, mechanical failures of equipment and potholes too numerous to count. The kinds of issue and challenges one accepted of what was considered (in those days) a “third world country”.
When I moved to this wonderful country a couple of decades ago, I was exposed to (as Dan Zajac, my first boss called it) American time. 9 AM meant 9 AM. It was awesome. Everything ran on time. Everyone worked on time. The train from Naperville to Chicago’s Union Station was only late once in a 2 year period. And that got most of the passengers upset. Flights from O’Hare (except on those stormy winter or spring days) were quite regular. The lights on the Expressways came on exactly at 7. Roads got fixed in the Summer so that they were new for most of the year. The reason why we were the “first” country in the entire world.
I’m sure you’ve noticed, but things have changed in the past few years. I travel a lot, so this is based on personal experience. These days, very few flights are on time. It has become such an endemic issue that we just expect it and plan around it. The train from Naperville to Chicago has been late eight of the last ten times I have taken it (not statistically significant, I know). The reasons? Switch failure, mechanical issues, stuck tracks are some. This last winter, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, we had over 10,000 pot holes in the Chicagoland area. Driving around was an adventure, to say the least. These are a few personal examples of the fundamental weakening of our roads, rail and air systems. The fragility of our aging infrastructure.
Is this what we should expect? I have been excited with all the talk in Washington about investing in our infrastructure. That’s exactly what we need. I am totally on board. We need this to ensure that we keep our country in the lead but more importantly, create an environment that is sustainable for the generations to follow.
We need to make sure the trains run on time, the planes fly on schedule and the roads are in good shape. This will allow us to again live on American time while improving our productivity further. Let’s not forget that our emerging competitors are building new roads, rails, airlines and systems. This will give them the advantage in the new global economy. We need to stay competitive. Invest in our roads, rails, and air. Bring new expansive technologies into play. Invest in ourselves to put away the sceptre of any possible decline. And create the opportunity to deliver on our limitless potential.