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Archive for September, 2011

How to set up a car pool

The Powers That Be in the world of transportation, which includes town planners, city councils, roading authorities and traffic engineers, do not like single-occupant vehicles, which is the technical way to describe all those cars that have just one driver in them and a whole lot of empty seats.  Think about it for a moment: if you have 10 cars waiting at the lights, each of which has only one driver, then you have 30 spare seats (or even more).  If all those seats were full, you’d only have 3 cars waiting at the lights, which means less of a wait, a faster commute and less pollution, unless every single one of those cars waiting at the lights is a hybrid or electric vehicle.  Carpooling makes good sense.

So how do you set up a carpool and do your bit to reduce congestion and pollution – and save yourself a few dollars when it comes to fuel costs?  First of all, do a bit of asking around at your workplace (if you work alone as a contractor, this isn’t going to be a goer) to find people who live roughly where you do who might be interested.  This can make a good point of conversation in the smoko room, or you can post notices around the workplace (either of the electronic type or of the traditional pen and paper type).  If you can’t find too many people in your office/shop that live in your approximate neighbourhood, then ask around the shops and offices near yours to find more people.

How many people do you need to set up a carpool?  This really depends on how many seats each of you has in their car.  If you all have MPVs (e.g. Honda Odyssey) or seven-seater 4x4s (e.g. Landrover Discovery) or vans (Ford Transit), then you can have seven people in your carpool.  However, if you’ve all got different vehicles, then the number of people involved should be equal to or less than the number of seats in the smallest vehicle available – which means four people for a small hatchback such as a Mazda2.  You can, of course, have fewer people than you have seats, so you can set up a carpool with only two or three people.

With a carpool, you should take turns at the driving, which means that the petrol costs are shared and you all get a turn at being The Boss (i.e. the driver).  However, you could come to an arrangement where one person does all the driving (e.g. the person with the big seven-seater) and everyone else chips in to help out with the fuel costs.  Do the maths here: you’ll need to work out how much fuel gets burned on the average commute and divide the weekly costs by the number of people involved.

When it comes to getting in the car and travelling, you can either all agree to meet at a certain point at a certain time (e.g. beside Deepak’s Corner Dairy or Smith Park) or whoever’s doing the driving picks up everybody else.  The important thing is to be punctual so you don’t irritate everyone else and make them late.

Make sure you have a contingency plan and can let the others in your carpool know if you can’t make it (if you’re sick or whatever).  This is one of the things that cellphones were invented for.  The easiest thing to do if the driver for the day is sick is to skip onto the next person in the cycle – the person who was sick can do the driving twice in a row next time round, or you can opt for the “what goes around comes around” principle and not worry about it.

One of the fun bits about a carpool is you get to show of your car to your workmates in a way that isn’t offensive or “swanky” – they’ll really admire the cushy leather seats or the top-notch sound system if they’re passengers.  If you’re the person with the not-so-stylish car, you get a chance to ride in something smarter than what you’ve got: you might not own a BMW 7-series, but if you’re carpooling with someone who does, you get a chance to ride in one and enjoy it anyway.

Another good part of carpooling is that it does help you get to know your co-workers better – it’s amazing what you’ll end up talking about during a 20-minute commute.  If you’re higher up the corporate ladder, this could be a good reason for swallowing a bit of pride and joining a carpool with your underlings: they’ll probably be more supportive and loyal towards you, and you’ll get to know their strengths and weaknesses a lot better.

And if you’re attracted to an eligible workmate, being in a carpool with them might just do the trick romantically – we all know the effects of enforced proximity!

Hope in the Doom and Gloom

I read an article by Kris Sayce in Money Morning recently and thought it was worth mentioning its most salient points.

At the moment, all we are reading about in the press is financial doom and gloom. The problems in Europe, especially in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (affectionately now referred to as PIGS) and the debt riddled United States of America.

The Financial Times headlines, “Italy turns to China for help in debt crisis”.

The Age says, “Retailing to go from ‘bad to worse'”.

Every way you look, you see destruction… job cuts, companies going bust and countries borrowing and begging from other countries. If you look locally, people like Rick Damelian and Tony Bilson are closing down – or worse, being closed by the banks. A good friend recently had a Bank appoint an Administrator to 3 profitable businesses, simply because they had revalued one of his properties at 60% of what he had paid for it and required him to ‘put in’ over $2m to get their loan valuation ratios in order. Unbelievable, but true!

Things look bad. And if we’re honest… it is pretty bad.

Amongst all the gloom there is ironically something to look positively on; the PAST. “There is no progress without destruction.”

Progress needs destruction. We know that may sound weird, but it’s true. Throughout history all improvements to human life have come as a result of destruction.

The technology sector is a perfect example:

These businesses’ weren’t doing to badly but the entrepreneurs were looking for greater profits – so they find a different product when all else fails.

Look at how Steve Jobs and Apple have transformed the way we go about our lives with the invention of the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

From garage to retail giant; but only from the pit of despair as the company was going bankrupt. Steve went looking for a ‘new’ product.

The retail sector is another great example;

Retail giants such as Harvey Norman, Myers and David Jones have been dragged into the 21st century into the ‘on-line’ market. They have had to use the new media of the internet to regain their market share and customer base. They have also had to become more competitive with cheaper overseas companies – immediately.

Again, it’s all great news for the consumer as this also drives down prices.

And it’s good news for progress and creative destruction too.

Why? We are always – Searching for profits

At some point it becomes unattractive for new players to enter the market. Start-up costs and low profit potential means entrepreneurs will look elsewhere. Simply put, the “high profit signal” isn’t flashing anymore.

But in order for progress to advance, you need an environment where entrepreneurs can flourish. Without it – progress stops.

For years, Western governments have meddled with the free market by erecting barriers to entry to keep entrepreneurs from destroying established businesses with new innovations.

The current destruction of the European countries is representative of this progression, no matter how hard it is to watch and fathom.

The larger governments will have to shrink and the smaller ones grow if they are to make the countries flourish once more. It is simply progression via destruction of out dated ideas that have stemmed from a much ‘larger’ world. Today the world is small due to technology and we may learn to embrace the change, while baring the storm.

This won’t happen overnight. But ultimately, we’ve greater faith in the abilities of entrepreneurs than we’ll ever have in the abilities of meddling bureaucrats.




Trimming the Transport Budget

Mate, I wish I had a little more cash in the bank!  To help this happen, you could get yourself a higher paid job but reality says your current job is pretty good, anyway.  What are some things we can do when we feel like saving a little more money when it comes to getting from A to B?  Once you’ve made the switch to a hybrid car or to an economy model, is there anything else you can do to reduce your fuel bill – and your carbon footprint?

On sunny days, why not bike instead of taking the car?  If your work premises are under a half-an-hour bike ride away (or about 5 kms), then this is a great way to keep yourself fit.  Using your car less and biking more is going to be good for keeping your body in shape while popping aside more cash in the bank for that holiday away.  Of course, if you have to take half a dozen children and/or lots of gear or a trailer, or if it’s pouring with rain, then you’re probably going to stick with your good old car. But if you can take a break from behind the wheel, why not? Shorter distances can be walked.

I love a ride on the pushbike.  The wind in the hair, the sun on the back and the blood pumping through the body just feels great.  Think about your route to work.  Is it a ride that involves a lot of stop start traffic in a built up area?  If it does, then try an alternative route because the air pollution is not so good for your respiratory system.  Traces of carcinogenic molecules are much higher where car exhaust fumes are belching out carbon monoxide, BTEX, particulate matter etc… in greater quantity (and you’re not going to escape them by taking your car – car drivers breathe in even more than cyclists do, unless you’ve got the windows shut and the air-con on).  Obviously, if you can ride your pushbike to work on a route that is through parks and open spaces, then you’re onto a win-win situation.  You’ll be sucking in great lots of clean green air and you won’t have to look for those as-scarce-as-hen’s-teeth car parking spaces.

What about the bus or train? Does your public transport system provide a superior alternative to your thirsty Corolla or Holden or whatever?  If you can find a route that takes you within half a kilometre of your work, why not use public transport and walk the remainder?  You’ll get to stretch your legs before arriving at your office.  Buses are usually comfortable enough in Australia, while the train is available in a number of main centres.  However, if you’re doing the weekly groceries, the bus might not be a goer – it’s a bit hard to carry all those shopping bags, which is what car boots are for (hint: doing the groceries weekly or even fortnightly rather than less frequently saves you petrol money and also grocery money – it’s a fact).

Of course, a number of you will be smirking as you read this because your office is at home.  Now that’s a pretty cool scenario. Roll out of bed in the morning and into your office chair. Still, there are ways, I’m sure, that you could reduce the level of car trips if you needed to save a few extra dollars on the side.  There is nothing like a walk or bike ride to your local Post Office or grocery store. A trip to the library could be done via bus or train, and the trip to the gym could be done via public transport (or skip the gym altogether and just go for a walk or run).

Still not convinced that you can give up the car?  Then consider starting a carpool with other people at your work.  Single-occupant vehicles (i.e. one person in one car) are frowned on by town planners, environmentalists and traffic engineers, so if you can share the ride with someone else, you get to save on fuel (you take turns at driving) and you can feel a bit better about how you’re helping to reduce congestion and pollution – and you also get to check out what different cars are like.  If you’re setting up a carpool, think carefully about who’s in your pool – it’s not going to work if one person’s got a massive MPV while someone else has a little hatchback.  But that’s another story.

Of course, if you love cars then you are going to want to drive yourself everywhere.  But please don’t be one of those prats who takes the car to the letterbox to pick up the mail.  If you are over seventy, I might let you off the hook, however. Even if you don’t become a regular cyclist, it’s probably no bad thing if all drivers have a go at a bike commute at least once just so they can see what it’s like and become more considerate drivers.

On The Other Side Of The Tasman Part 3: The South Island

The 2011 Rugby World Cup has kicked off with a bang, as it always does, and the Wallabies have (thankfully) won their first game against Italy.  It won’t be until later that they go down south, and for those of you who are planning to head over later rather than sooner, this gives you time to plan your South Island road trip.

If you’re starting your trans-Tasman trip in the South Island, Christchurch will be your starting point.  The roads here are not as “munted” as they used to be just after the spate of earthquakes, but they’re not quite as smooth as they used to be, but they soon smooth out and look like normal roads again.  The Wallabies are playing in Nelson, and you’ve got three main ways of getting there by road.  Each of these can be done in a day, or a day and a half if you want to stop off anywhere and/or go the long way.

The first – and most direct way – of driving from Christchurch to Nelson to watch the Wallabies show the Russians how to play rugby is to go via the Lewis Pass.  To take this route, you head north along State Highway 1 from Christchurch until you get to a turn-off westwards (State Highway (SH) 7, which is very clearly marked.  As you go along this road, you’ll get off the (comparatively) long straights of the Canterbury Plains and get into the hill country before too long.  After winding through the first little pass in the middle of the wine-growing country, you’ll get to another major intersection, one which leads to Hanmer Springs.  Hanmer Springs is well worth a side-trip, with luxurious natural hot springs, and it’s going to be the base for the Wallabies for four days (24th to the 27th September), so it’ll be a good place to pick up a few autographs.  If you want natural hot water but without the celebrities, you can get this further along SH7 at Maruia Springs.  These springs give their name to Springs Junction, where you’ll leave SH7 at a fork in the road and go along SH65.  This road winds northwards through lots of hills until reaching Nelson.

If you prefer coast to mountains, you’ll probably want to stay on SH1.  You won’t avoid mountains altogether, but you’ll still get some interesting twists and turns on the road.  This road leads up past Kaikoura.  The road here is quite busy, as it’s a major trucking route, and it’s reasonably narrow – take your chances to pass B-trains when you can.  Also watch out for seals, which can take it into their furry heads that the road is a good place to sit.  You will follow this road to Blenheim, which is another wine-growing capital, and find SH6, which will take you to Nelson.  If you miss the turn-off in the middle of town, you can get back onto SH6 a bit further out of town by taking SH65. Watch out for the roundabout in the middle of Blenheim with a train track running through it – the train does not follow the roundabout give way rules!

There is another route between Christchurch and Nelson: this is the Molesworth Track (also known as the Rainbow Station or St Arnaud track), which runs through a working farm.  It’s a 4×4 track and rather rocky, but well worth it if you want to put a bit of adventure into your Christchurch to Nelson drive.  The track is open year round, but there is a small charge and a locked gate to deal with – contact the NZ Department of Conservation for more details and/or read the brochure at

The long way of getting to Nelson from Christchurch will take you through the most dramatic mountain scenery – the sort we don’t really get over here.  This route is the Arthur’s Pass route, which follows the road taken to the goldfields back in the pioneer days.  To take this route, go south along SH1 for a short way past the airport (and I mean short!) and take SH73.  This will lead you through the Canterbury Plains into the mountains – and depending on the weather over the next few weeks, you might want to stop off at one of the many skifields along this route, such as Broken River, Cragieburn and Porter Heights.  Beware of keas (mountain parrots) if you stop off at Arthur’s Pass: these birds are nosey little #$%^#^ with very sharp beaks that are capable of making mincemeat of soft-top convertible hoods, windscreen wipers and other softish bits of cars – they’ve been known to completely shred bike tyres, stranding unwary cyclists.  The road after Arthur’s Pass itself isn’t quite as epic as it used to be thanks to the massive feat of engineering known as the Otira Viaduct.  Prior to the viaduct going in, the road down to the West Coast involved very steep grades and hairpin turns – not for the faint hearted or for heavy trucks!  Some, however, might say that the Viaduct has taken a bit of the driving fun out of the trip – judge for yourself.  Once you’re down on the West Coast, turn right at Kumara junction and head through Greymouth and the old goldfields. You can take SH7 here back to Springs Junction, or you can continue along SH6 to Westport, where you’ll keep going along SH6 as it winds through to Nelson and joins up with SH65, winding through more hills to Nelson.

On The Other Side Of The Tasman Part 2: North Island Drives

Those who plan on visiting New Zealand to follow the Wallabies during their upcoming Rugby World Cup campaign are likely to have one North Island road trip on the agenda: a trip down from Auckland (where the Wallabies play Ireland) to Wellington (where they’re highly likely to beat the USA).  This trip can be done in one day, but it pays to allow a night’s break in the middle. The trip from Auckland to Wellington is one of the classic New Zealand road trips, and you’ve got a number of ways to go about it.

The most straightforward way to get from Auckland to Wellington is via State Highway (SH) 1.  This takes you down the middle
of the North Island for the bulk part and then the lower western side. It’s by far the most popular route, as it’s more direct. However, you don’t have to stick on this highway the whole way – you can choose to go down the east of Lake Taupo on SH1, or you can turn right south of Tokoroa and go down the less popular western shore following SH32, which has a lot more forest.  The two routes meet up again at Turangi.  After this, you get to what’s known as the “Desert Road”, but if you come from, say, Alice Springs, try not to snigger when you hear the locals calling it this – it’s not that much of a desert, but at least it has a striking cluster of active volcanoes.  The volcanoes are unlikely to go up and close the roads, but the Desert Road can be closed by snow.  This is unlikely in the middle of September, but isn’t impossible, so keep and eye on the weather forecast and take warm clothing if the weather looks a bit iffy. As you keep going south, things get a little tame (and the roads a little more crowded) as you get south of Bulls, but if you head east along SH3 to Palmerston North (notable for the wind farms – you can’t miss them) and through the Manawatu Gorge, you get onto SH2, which is more interesting from a driver’s perspective, as it’s got more hill work and corners to have fun with.

If you take SH2 all the way down, it’s a lot longer, but it goes through some more rugged bits of the country, and is the route to take if you like cornering and hills, as SH2 has plenty of these.  This follows the coast of the Bay of Plenty and then cuts through the hill country to Gisborne, the first city in the world to see the sun, thanks to the International Date Line.  If you’re really keen, you can go around all of East Cape via SH35.  Fill up with petrol at Opotiki, take picnic food rather than expecting takeaways and book a night at Gisborne if you do.  After Gisborne, SH2 crosses a few more sets of steep hills (watch out for wild goats on the road and for the very impressive railway bridge at Mohaka) before getting into tamer country around Napier and Hastings.   If you’re fed up with hills at this stage, you can cut through the Manawatu Gorge to Palmerston North and get onto SH1 again, and get onto the highway into Wellington.

An alternative road trip starting from Auckland is to head north along the rest of SH1 to the very top of the North Island at Cape Reinga.  You have to take a dirt road to get to the very northernmost tip, but a 4×4 isn’t necessary and you can do it in a little hatchback if you like.

Lexus- Big Changes on the Horizon

The Lexus motor company is really hitting the pavement running with its all new designs and model line ups, or at least the planning and endless chitchat about such changes are becoming rife. This includes a rumoured BMW X1 rival being planned as well as a newer ‘ES’ version which will no doubt be based on the next model Camry, like its predecessor.

Lexus needs a bit of a refresh as its sales numbers have dropped off in recent times. The ‘Sports Hybrid’ CT 200h has got the ball rolling, averaging around 150 units per month in Australia, similar numbers to the established IS250.

The next change we can see in showrooms is the next  Lexus GS model which is set to make great changes into the 21st century of ‘fun’ motoring – FINALLY. One of the world’s most boring cars is now being tweaked to within an inch of it ‘old-man’ status into a mid-sized interesting driving experience.

The design is still strong and very ‘GS’ in this 4th generation styling but its true performance comes with its engagement of the driver. The Australian market will be receiving the GS350 and the GS450h, but not the lovely F Sports which is only designated to the cold countries at this stage.

The designers have obviously looked at the LFA supercar for styling and performance cues. It is bolder, stronger and nearly confidently shouting ‘look at me’. That is what Lexus has been lacking in the past few years – something to shout ‘hey look at Lexus”. We all know the Lexus is reliable, practical and generally very sound. This is not all we want or we would all be driving Prius’. A great reliable car that handles like it is on rails…and fits all the kids – now that’s a winner.

This has obviously come from the Toyota Corporation ‘internationalising’ the Lexus brand and making it a separate and individual division which includes engineering, design and marketing.

Peter Evans, Lexus’ Australian Marketing Director, has said that there is will be a much broader offering including 4-cylinder and diesel models to compete with the Mercedes E220 and BMW 520d. For a brand that currently starts at just short of $100K that is good news to allow more people to even consider looking at the wonderful Lexus brand.

So next time you are looking for a new family sized sedan put the GS Lexus on your list, as it is an up and coming star in this market space.