There’s a planned high speed rail in England called the High Speed 2 (HS2). At a proposed cost of $30 billion, it will shorten the travel time from London to Birmingham (126 miles) by 30 minutes. Currently, the trip between the two cities takes an hour and 30 minutes by train or 2 hours and 15 minutes by car.
As with any high cost venture, there is some voiced opposition to the project. One of those voices is British advertising executive Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy & Mather. He believes the issue isn’t the amount of time travelers are spending on their commute, but rather how they’re spending it.
“My argument is that engineers were designing trains around a mathematical model where numerical factors such as speed, journey duration, use of rolling stock, were the only things they were allowed to consider,” he said in the Freakonomics podcast, The Maddest Men of All. “Whereas a psychologist would say, ‘No, no, no. The real solution here is actually not to make the train any faster. You can make it slower if you like, but simply to reframe the time that you spend on the train so that it’s pleasant rather than annoying.’”
That’s why he says that the British government could spend much less money by simply installing exceptionally fast and reliable Wi-Fi, and travelers would be just as happy as arriving 30 minutes early. He also argues that if they spent a portion of the proposed cost and simply hired supermodels to serve champagne, most travelers would ask the train to go slower.
So the issue isn’t how much time we spend sitting on a train. The issue is what we’re getting for our time spent and how much value does it hold for us. Give someone an option of staring out the window for 30 minutes or spend 60 minutes preparing for an upcoming presentation or watching the latest episode of their favorite show and they’ll probably choose the longer trip time.
In the US, the average commute to work time is 26 minutes, whether that’s by train, bus or car. For those riding a train or bus, that’s nine days a year just staring at the back of someone’s head. Who wouldn’t rather spend that time doing something productive or meaningful?
Travel time, whether you’re going halfway across the country or simply to work, shouldn’t be the same as wasted time. Providing a Wi-Fi solution makes sense because it provides people with an option of activities to pass the time. Passengers on a train equipped with Wi-Fi are able to work on their laptops or tablets. Others are able to catch up on their favorite shows or play the newest real-time strategy game on their smart devices without burning through their monthly data allowance.
With a viable Wi-Fi solution, travel time, regardless if it’s on a train, boat, plane or bus, could be more than just a trip or a commute. It could be an experience.