As a frequent traveller, I am a well-versed user of the German railway system. You know, when I grew up the saying ‘punctual as an express train’ (pünktlich wie ein D-Zug) was still in wide-spread use. Nowadays, of course, the situation has reversed, Deutsche Bahn has become the epitome of unpunctuality and unreliableness. Travelling by train in Germany has become a sure recipe for frustration, only mildly compensated by the excellent ‘Navigator’, DB’s app which helps to navigate its derailed infrastructure, and greatly magnified by the almost ever-present loudspeaker announcements concerning delays and cancellations as well as the notorious and helpless ‘We apologize for any inconvenience’.
But the German railroad infrastructure is not the only infrastructure that has suffered recently. In a mirror image to its sorry state of public transport, the German healthcare system is still standing sturdily in the face of increasing public health turmoil, but its since 2003 continually hailed healthcare information infrastructure is a manifestation of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’. And where infrastructures do not fail because of mis-management and free-market ideologies, they become the target of sabotage , as was recently the case in Germany when criminals cut important fiberglass trunk lines laid along rails, this time giving Deutsche Bahn an opportunity to shine when it managed to swiftly put in place its emergency plans, and, more depressingly, in the relentless Russian attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure in one of history’s most dismal cases of a nation’s aggression against a neighbor.
What is it that causes the downfall of our infrastructures? And why are we simultaneously witnessing the rise of the platforms? Is this latter development just a consequence of poorly managed infrastructures, as is often claimed with regard to Uber, or do these two developments grow out of a common cause?