Today’s technology supplies the proletariat with a historically unique opportunity to have their voices heard.
Stuck in traffic -- after working all day to make rent, buy dinner and pay down debt, only to do it again the next day -- any number of American citizens living paycheck to paycheck might be found shouting at the steering wheel of their Japanese- or Korean-produced economy vehicle, “Why am I stuck in traffic?! This is outrageous! It’s 2014! We’re supposed to have hover technology by now!”
No one hears that guy unless his window is rolled down, but an app released last year by the Building America’s Future educational fund (BAF) and the U.S. Travel Association allows him to now vent directly to his elected officials.
Users simply open the app, select which form of transportation they are stuck on (road vehicle, subway, bus, airplane, train or bicycle), push a button to enable geolocation, select which officials are to receive the email, and press send. The user’s elected officials will receive an email notification that one of their constituents is being detained by their mode of transport and are most unhappy about it.
Since the app’s release in summer 2013, it has been downloaded 15,381 times, with 8,710 emails sent to Congress. BAF reported the app has been used in all 50 states, and a usage map published Sept. 4 shows some of that data (map data dates back to September 2013 and does not include users who turned off geolocation, revealing where citizens are getting stuck and when).
Some of the data isn’t terribly useful – knowing that someone’s plane was delayed in Utah two months ago isn’t very informative, but officials say that eventually the map will show trends and patterns that could inform funding decisions by lawmakers.
Sitting on the freeway in traffic or waiting for a delayed flight in an airport are both annoying scenarios, but an under-developed infrastructure has much larger implications for our country, BAF President Marcia Hale said.
“It is all about highlighting the need to build and improve our existing infrastructure countrywide, and it’s so important for economic competitiveness reasons,” she said, adding that trucking and rail industries lose money when faced with infrastructure bottlenecks. “Sitting on the highway wastes time, gas and money. Building infrastructure and improving things not only adds to the ability to get around, but it promotes jobs and future ability to transport things.”
When people see American cities equipped with modern airports, it promotes both domestic and international tourism, Hale continued. “If you travel internationally, an enormous number of international airports are much nicer than our airports and, more importantly, move people faster and have more modern facilities,” she said. “At the very least, we know that if we can get a certain amount of activity on the app, it will have an impact.”
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal wrote a letter to his constituents in July asking them to use the I’m Stuck app.
“I’ll be honest,” Blumenthal wrote, “there’s not much I can do if you’re stuck over the weekend. But if you tell me about it — if you send me messages — I can bring those messages to my colleagues here in the Senate and urge them to help renew the Highway Trust Fund so we don’t continue to witness the crumbling of our nation’s infrastructure. This affects all of us.”
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.