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Paying For The Roads We Drive On

Across the Tasman, there are plenty of people getting annoyed at the increase in large, damaging potholes that have developed over the last few years on NZ’s tarmac road surfaces, even on main State Highways.  Over there, for quite some time, EV owners have been getting a free ride on the coattails of motorists using an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle and who pay their fair share of road user chargers (RUCs) and/or a large portion of tax levied on the fuel at the pumps for the roading upkeep.  This got me thinking about how should we be fairly introducing EVs to the masses while maintaining our roading systems?  I realize it’s likely to be a bit contentious, but it’s not a question just for New Zealand’s new government to answer; it is also worth giving a bit time to thought and discussion here in Australia. 

In Australia, we pay quite a lot of money into the pool of government funds that is received on yearly vehicle registrations.  According to the Australian general insurance provider, GIO, the average cost for a family car is likely to be around $1240 per year.  The excise tax (an indirect tax charged by government on the sale of a particular good or service) on the common fuels used in Australia (as of 1 February 2022) is $0.442 per litre.  Introducing a direct road user charge as a replacement for fuel excise tax is something that has been bandied about at various high levels of government in Australia.  The idea gains extra weight particularly when you consider the seemingly imminent transition from fossil-fuel and the ICE to electric vehicles (EVs).  

A transition from ICE vehicles to EVs changes the maths and raises eyebrows for those harbouring the more philosophical questions involving fairness and equality for all socioeconomic groups.  Without some form of direct user charge for the EV motorist, they would otherwise make no contribution to the roads’ upkeep. 

If, in the future, we do end up going entirely electric, the current $12 billion or so of annual revenue from fuel tax will need to be replaced from some other scheme or source.  It seems quite economically sound to simply charge for owning and using cars on a scale according to the number of kilometres driven.

Adding another aspect to your discussion on this topic down at the pub might earn you a free drink, so how about considering the damage caused to roads according to the weight of the vehicle driving over it?  A UK report carried out by researchers at the University of Leeds suggested that EVs can damage roads at twice the rate of an equivalent-sized ICE vehicle.  According to the data, the average EV adds 2.24 times more wear and tear to roads than an ICE vehicle of similar size.  They also think that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) with a mass of over 2000 kg contribute 2.32 times the rate of road deterioration. 

So could the fuel excise could be scrapped altogether, and all vehicles should be taxed via a user pays system based on the weight/mass of a vehicle?  This sort of deal might actually help lower emissions in the long run because the lighter the car, the more frugal it is, EVs, hybrids, and ICEs all included.  The cost of road repairs is also related to the CO2 emissions as well, so the fewer road repairs are required, the lower the emissions emitted – well, in theory anyway.  What do you reckon?

Is Driving A Pain In The Neck?

Does this sound familiar? You’ve been on the road driving interstate for hours on end. You finally get to your destination but as you go to move, and it suddenly feels like someone’s driving white-hot nails into your neck or shoulder.  Sometimes, this pain can come on long before you reach your destination.  

This sort of thing can be one reason why some people prefer to fly rather than go on long-distance road trips.  However, if you prefer to drive, as a lot of us do, and you want to see the scenery up close as you travel, then you probably want to stop the long hours of driving becoming a literal pain in the neck.

What causes neck pain when driving?  Two factors are at play here. The first is that your head is kind of heavy, and your neck has to have the muscles to support it – if you’ve ever seen or held a newborn baby, you’ll know that we aren’t born with the ability to hold up our big brains inside our big heads, and these muscles have to be developed pronto.  The second factor is that when driving, we tend to keep our heads and necks in more or less one position the whole time: on the road ahead, with the occasional head-check of the wing mirrors. Being forced into one position for a long time causes the muscles to cramp.  I don’t know if the heads-up displays found in most modern vehicles make the problem worse or not.

The issue of support is easy enough to deal with. For a start off, adjust your headrest. Most of us know how to adjust the lumbar support (if your driver seat has this; many do) and the angle of the seat to the right position. If you don’t know how to do this properly, the idea is to have your seat back at an angle so your hips and shoulders are stacked above each other (the seat and the back should be at an angle of 90–100°). If you like to slump or slouch back, your neck will have to go at an angle it doesn’t like for long periods so you can see ahead. Fixing the angle of your seat and making sure that your lumbar support is sitting nicely in the small of your back will go a long way to avoiding neck pain while driving.  Also make sure that the head rest is touching the back of your head.

However, even with the cushiest of seats in the perfect position, your neck will get tired and sore after a while. This means that you may need to take other steps during long-distance drives to avoid your neck aching.

The best tips I’ve found for avoiding neck pain while driving are the following:

  1. Get a neck support pillow. You might feel that you look silly wearing something that looks like you’ve just had neck surgery, but at least you’ll feel a lot more comfortable. These pillows will take some of the weight of your head so your neck doesn’t have to work so hard.
  2. Adjust your hand position during long drives.  Yes, we all know that 10 to 2 is the best position to have your hands on the steering wheel, but keeping your arms in this position will cramp the trapezius muscles (that’s a big group of muscles in your neck and shoulder).  During a long drive, change your hand positions around.
  3. Chill out. Many of us tend to clench our jaws and tense our shoulders when we feel stressed.  This leads to agonizingly tight shoulders.  As you drive (assuming that you’re not in a high-pressure situation), do a quick survey of your neck, jaw and shoulders.  Are you holding your stress in these parts of your body?  Do a few deep breathing exercises as you drive to help dispel the stress.
  4. Massage. Use self-massage (with one hand on the back of your neck), a massage seat or a helpful passenger riding shotgun to give the muscles in your shoulders and neck a quick squeeze and rub.
  5. Move your neck. Even while you’re driving, you can move your neck and shoulders – without taking your eyes off the road.  Shrug your shoulders and try to roll them.  Do that neck roll and one-sided shrug you see tough guys and gals in the movies do before a fight.  Slide your neck from side to side while staying level like a belly dancer.  Tilt your head from side to side like a stereotypical Indian. Nod and shake your head.  As long as you keep your eyes on the road ahead, you’re all good.
  6. Take a break! The fact that your neck is sore is a sure sign that you’ve been sitting in one position for too long. Your legs could probably do with a break as well.  Pull over and stretch your legs. As well as all the neck exercises mentioned above, remember to move your arms and do a few twists of your spine as well.

Obviously, if the traffic is heavy or if you’re driving through the middle of the city, then you may not be able to do all of these. However, do what you can when you can, and you’ll find that driving is less of a pain in the neck.

So You Want To Be An Uber Driver?

Quite a few of you may have considered getting a few extra bucks out of your car by signing up as a driver for the rideshare scheme Uber or one of the similar schemes, such as Ola. But is your car suitable for this?  What’s more, if you are seriously considering the possibility, then what do you need to know when you go to buy a new car?

First of all, let’s get the disclaimers out of the way. I’m not affiliated with Uber, have never been an Uber driver, haven’t even been an Uber passenger, and get the urge to spell it the proper German way as Über.  My family members aren’t Uber drivers, although my son once thought about it and my brother used to operate a bicycle rickshaw taxi (and he’s not even Chinese). I’m not saying that you should be an Uber driver or that you shouldn’t be an Uber driver, or that you should consider some other rideshare service such as Ola or DiDi, etc.  It’s completely up to you whether you should or shouldn’t, and I’m not going to give you any advice in that direction. 

I get a strange feeling that this one won’t meet Uber’s eligibility criteria…

However, what I’m hoping to do with this article is to let you know what sort of car you’ll need if you want to sign up to the programme as a driver.  Because this company values its reputation – and no wonder, as it involves (a) getting into the car of a stranger (b) who you have only met online – it has strict requirements for the vehicles as well as the people who drive them.  So if your car doesn’t meet the grade, you won’t be able to hire yourself out as a driver.

The first requirement is that the vehicle in question has to be no more than 15 years old, with the age limit dropping to no older than 7 years for the Uber Comfort service and no older than 6 years for the Uber Premier service.  So if you own an old classic, I’m sorry: Uber isn’t for you.  However, if you own a classic car in good condition, you can still get into the car hire game by making your classic available as wedding car – something that really deserves an article of its very own.

The next thing that this rideshare company looks at is the number of doors your car has.  Sorry, but if you own a hot three-door hatch or a two-door sports car, it won’t meet the requirements.  The minimum number of doors is four.

Seating is also one of the factors that is important, for obvious reasons. Single-cab utes are out of the picture and not just because they usually only have two doors.  They’re also out because they can only seat a few people, and the minimum number of passengers that an Uber (or should that be “a Uber”? Depends on whether you pronounce it Oober or Youber) can take is four.  Surprisingly, there’s also a maximum number of passengers that eligible cars can have as well, namely seven, meaning that the car can have up to eight seats (one for the driver, of course).  If you own one of those minivans that seats up to 12 people, it won’t be eligible.

All cars have to be in proper working order, which includes the windows and the air-conditioning (which would have ruled out one second-hand van I once owned and was very glad to get rid of).  It also should not have any cosmetic damage, as nobody wants to turn up to a party in a shabby rustbucket.  It also has to pass its roadworthiness inspection, but that’s true of all cars. 

Safety, as you can imagine, is very important, so one of the requirements for Uber cars, in Sydney at least, is that they must have a five-star ANCAP rating.  If you’re not sure if your vehicle does or doesn’t, you can use the handy search tool provided by ANCAP.  

Quite a lot of vehicles meet the criteria, so a wide range of vehicles is part of the Uber “fleet” (you could quite justifiably call that a private fleet, but we’ve bagged that name!). Of the many cars that are part of the system, the most popular are the following:

  • Toyota Camry
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Mazda 3
  • Toyota RAV4

Well done, Sherlock… you’ve probably already figured out that this list of the most popular Uber cars overlaps with the most popular cars in Australia.  Which makes sense, statistically speaking. 

Different types of Uber service also have other requirements.  For example, Uber Premier likes not just late-model four-door saloons, but they also have to have extra legroom for passengers, take no more than four passengers and be what Uber calls “high end” vehicles.  What it considers to be “high end” is subjective, but all the usual suspects make the grade: BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Porsche, Volvo… 

Uber has a list of eligible cars for each category on one of its information pages (you can find it at this link). This list is pretty extensive and quite frankly, if you own a Ferrari, then you probably don’t need to pick up extra cash by joining a rideshare scheme. Unless you want to, of course!

Christmas Tree Pick-Up

Bringing the Christmas Tree Home

Christmas is sneaking up on us with just 20 days to go!  It got me thinking about the Christmas tree.  My son has struggled to find any decent wild pine in his area or any pine that he can pinch a branch off for his Christmas tree this year.  Instead, his go to for this year has been a glitzy artificial $12 tree from Kmart, not that great for the environment.  Yes, it looks pretty cool, flashes and changes colour, showing off the star on top nicely, but there is fun lost in this plastic answer to what is a quintessential feature of Christmas.  There is, however, fun to be had making the effort to go out and choose a real tree.  Yes, that tangible, fragrance, with real leaves, real bark, and real spiders.  This is the classic scent of Christmas that matches the delicious ham and turkey, custard and Christmas pudding, way better than any fake alternative.

All around the more populated areas of Australia there are numerous places that sell gorgeous live Christmas trees.  From Tomalong Christmas Tree Farm, in New South Wales; to Chrissy Trees 4 You, in Queensland; to Adelaide Hills Christmas Trees, in South Australia; to Sunbury Christmas Tree Farm, in Victoria; to Santa’s Shaped Christmas Tree, in ACT; to Christmas Trees of Wanneroo, in Western Australia; or to Richmond Christmas Tree Farm, in Tasmania – these are just some of the places you can visit for bringing that perfect look and smell of Christmas back home for Christmas.  Now is the time to head out and find that tree to decorate.  Most places will offer a delivery service, but you can also do a pick-up of your own.  Picking the tree up yourself is the most entertaining way of getting the tree and taking the kids/family/friends with you makes for an enjoyable and often humorous excursion.

This leads me to answering the question: how does one best bring a Christmas tree home?  I mean they can be up to 12 ft tall, fat, and even a bit cumbersome.  If you do have a trailer or a ute, then these vehicles are the best for an easy diy for Christmas tree collection.  Take a rope or a tie down to make sure the tree is properly secured for the homeward journey.

But what about if you don’t have trailer, a ute, or even a truck or van?  Well, the next best thing is to secure the tree to the roof of your car.  If your car comes equipped with the roof rack, then you’re good to go.  If you don’t have a roof rack, then you can pop a soft sheet over the roof of your car and position the tree on top before tying it down using tie downs.  The tie downs can be anchored by lowering the windows enough for you to fasten the ends of the tie down to the grab handles inside the car or even on the lip protruding from the top of the door – if there is one.  Just make sure that you are legal and that the tree doesn’t have too much of an overhang past the ends of our vehicle.

The other thing to keep in mind is that your field of vision can’t be blocked.  Placing the tree trunk end at the front end of the car and the top of the tree pointing rearwards ensures that, as you travel back home, the wind drags neatly over the tree without whipping against the branches, potentially damaging the tree and the perfect look.

Most everyday hatchbacks, sedans, and wagons are good for carrying up to 75 kg on the roof.  Others can carry more.  SUVs, vans, and dual cab utes can usually handle 100 kg.  However, do check your manufacturers recommendations before trying to put a heavyweight monster on your little Toyota Yaris.  You can shrink the tree by lopping a bit of the bottom off the tree without losing out too much on the perfect shape.

Another way you can transport your freshly cut Christmas tree back to the house is inside the cabin of your car.  If you’re not too prissy about the interior of your sedan or small hatch getting bits in it, and not too dismayed with a 6 ft tree rather than a 12 ft one, then sliding the tree through the front passenger door, over the lowered backrest, and through onto the rear seat is possible.  Of course, a station wagon or hatchback can swallow a tree through the boot space and over the lowered rear seats.  If it’s a sedan, then the top of the tree may need to poke out through the lowered front passenger window, particularly if it’s tall.  Obviously, the smaller the tree, the easier it is for you to get the Christmas tree inside your car to transport home.

With Christmas just around the corner, it’s time to start decorating, and the first thing to go up has to be the tree!