Gig workers with smartphones can help set infrastructure priorities

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With all the focus on whether Congress will enact a major infrastructure law to rebuild the United States’ roads, bridges, railways, etc., no one is paying attention to the elephant in the room: even if the law is passed, Where do we start? You might be surprised to know that the gig economy has an app for this.

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We can hire professional consultants and other experts to review our infrastructure systems and see which ones require the most immediate attention, but the vast majority of roads, bridges, dams and other critical infrastructure in the US Numbers prioritize challenging work.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 report card for America’s infrastructureIn the US, there are more than 4 million miles of public roads, 617,000 bridges, 91,000 dams and 140,000 rail miles. These are massive figures.


So as soon as an infrastructure bill is passed, the big questions will be: Where do we start, and how do we set priorities—fast and at the lowest cost, at least for the first phase? The next step would be to bring in professional engineers and experts to start the rebuilding process.

There are some clear examples of infrastructure systems that need urgent, priority attention (see Sydney Sherman Bridge in Houston, which had to be closed a few years ago for a bad bridge bearing and was recently classified as “structurally deficient”).

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Luckily, there’s another big statistic that can help: 216 million. This is the estimated number of US adults who own a smartphone. pew research center It was recently found that 85% of all US adults own a smartphone, which, needless to say, is the highest ever. Even listing only a small percentage out of 216 million smartphone users can go a long way in this task.

Federal, state and local governments can and should consider the awesome (and relatively inexpensive) power of our smartphones and the gig economy. Gig workers can be enlisted to use the smartphones they already have to provide inspection data and photos of major identified roads, bridges, dams and railroads in 50 states. The data and photographs they collect can be immediately transmitted to a national database for review and evaluation by professional engineers and consultants.

I know it can be done because my colleagues and I have done it before. We tap into a worldwide network of gig workers (data collectors or data contributors) working from an open source app and with complete transparency.

Our projects include contributors photographing and documenting sewer access points, bridges, water access points and other infrastructure systems. We’ve partnered with a leading nonprofit on behalf of USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Aid to provide its Water, Sanitation and Sanitation (WASH) program a rapid wash needs assessment, with our contributors sharing photos and other information. To provide data can be mobilized on an emergency basis. Access, sanitation and hygiene of water in Colombia.

Why can’t we do the same for bridges, roads, tunnels and other infrastructure here in America? This technology needs to be scaled up, and we know it can be done.

It’s simple – and the solution is in clear sight. Our smartphones and gig workers allow us to use their photos and input to set priorities for what their eyes are seeing, and then professional experts can follow along to begin implementation. The Senate bill already has provisions that could provide funding for this type of advanced technology research. And even after repairs are done, there is a constant need to monitor the condition of our highways, bridges and tunnels.

Harnessing this gig-worker-enabled smartphone technology will not only help our federal, state and local governments set priorities more quickly; It would also allow thousands of everyday Americans to be part of the rebuilding process. This has the added benefit of democratizing the work of creating a grassroots movement of people using their own smartphones to fix our infrastructure and help rebuild and repair American infrastructure for present and future generations. Is.

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