Travel should be awe-inspiring. But too often the journey itself is defined by overbooked flights, chronically delayed trains, and bridges and roads that are literally crumbling under our wheels. In its 2013 infrastructure report cards, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) quantified the sorry state of travel-related sectors, assigning a C+ grade to both bridges and rail, while aviation and roads scored a D. Some of these grades were actually up from the previous report card (released in 2009), but the numbers remain grim. Airline congestion and delays drain some $22 billion from the U.S. economy every year, while congestion on more than 40 percent of the country’s major urban highways accounts for $102 billion in annual losses. And those are just the problems that can be readily quantified. Seemingly petty issues, like shrinking legroom on airplanes or the sparsity of electric vehicles in most of the country, contribute to the lingering sense that travel, despite all of its progress, still sucks.
The obvious fix for all of these woes is lots of money, and plenty of time. But there are more specific, immediate fixes, too, that involve targeting the nation’s always limited funding towards a given project or system. There’s no need to wait for Google’s crashless cars, Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, or any other sci-fi-inspired Hail Mary to solve all of our people-moving problems. Here’s what technology can actually do in the near-term to improve the state of travel in the United States.