Categories
driving transport

The desire to drive, and how we must counter it

I am discovering that there’s some powerful psychology going on when you get a new car.

Playing into this for me is that my old car was wearing out, and was getting difficult to drive, plus the change from manual to automatic.

This means the new car seems like a breeze to drive.

The “new car smell” is real, and somehow makes it seem pleasurable to sit in the driver’s seat.

The extra features – even on this model which was as cheap as I could buy in the size I wanted – are (I’m guessing) designed to appeal, to make you want to be in the car (and thus to drive it).

Some designers have identified cupholders specifically as desirable, with some perhaps unlikely explanations:

Rapaille says women love cup holders because — and this is really what he told her — cup holders mean coffee, and coffee means safety, because of the memories we all have of our mothers preparing coffee with breakfast.

And this: Anthony Prozzi, design manager for Ford in Michigan, explains that “part of a designers job is to play psychologist, anthropologist and sociologist, and knowing those things helps you read consumers and know what puts a smile on their faces.”

Lancer manual: cup and bottle holders

My new car has a spot to put a bottle in the door (like my old car did) plus cupholders in the centre between the front two seats. So I can have two drinks within easy reach if I want… while the manual warns you not to actually use them while driving. Plus it’s got a spot for a packet of tissues, in case I have a spill.

I suppose car manufacturers have been at this game for a long time. You’ve bought their product for thousands of dollars – they want you to feel good about it, so that in time you’ll want to upgrade to another one.

The net result is that – even for someone like me, who understands the consequences of driving, and doesn’t like driving – I feel like I want to drive it.

I’d never drive it to work. Parking is too expensive, traffic is too soul-destroying, and (usually) the train is too good.

But it’s tempting to drive it other places where PT options are fewer – and I can understand why some people would be tempted to drive every day, even into horrible traffic. Combined with (Australian) governments who keep building big roads, even though it doesn’t solve congestion (it expands it), the desire to drive is powerful.

Just get in, turn the key and go. It’s so easy. Mostly the noise, air quality and traffic impacts are Somebody Else’s Problem. The motorist doesn’t pay for them; society does.

Governments are complicit in this, especially in Australia, where they build ever more roads as cities get bigger – despite this being not how the world’s biggest cities solve their mobility problems.

So the desire to drive is powerful.

CBD traffic, Lonsdale and William Streets

Fighting back

All this means that those of us who believe in the importance of solving those impacts through alternative transport modes have to make sure that they improve enough to fight back. If everybody who could afford to and was able to was on the roads, it’d be a disaster.

Perhaps to an extent cars are self-defeating. The more crowded the roads become, the better the alternatives look.

I also associate the car with first escapes, driving nowhere in particular in the middle of the night with a friend, movement being a goal in its own right. … Countless trips have been made by car since then, and we (still) own a small car today. However, trains became our favorite transport mode a long time ago, and as a family, we nowadays associate highways with congestion and stress, places to avoid.Stefan Gossling

Ultimately to fight back against the car, the other options need to improve.

Gossling again: There are powerful interests at work to psychologically engineer car addiction—addicts, conveniently, never question their behavior. Other insights pertain to the role of cars with regard to emotions, sociality, sex and gender, speed, authority, and death. We need to understand these interrelationships to unlock the possibility of alternative transport futures.

Caulfield station, inbound passengers during evening peak

Can public transport improve?

One could focus on the psychological aspects of public transport, but what about the basics – making the system easy and pleasant to use?

Cleanliness, crowding, information, security and easy to use ticketing all come into it. But seamless connections and cutting waiting times to reduce door-to-door journey times are fundamental requirements.

It would be easy enough to despair. Progress is so damn slow.

Most suburban buses are still running to frequencies from cuts 25 years ago. The last tranche of the better quality orbital Smartbus routes were implemented in 2010, almost a decade ago.

Trams have seen capacity expansion (big trams replacing smaller trams) but few route extensions, and remain slow due to a lack of progress on traffic priority.

The noises about public transport expansion are positive, but the actual progress isn’t.

Particularly frustrating is that literally billions are being spent on new rail tunnels to fix peak hour (great!) but most suburban train lines continue to run only every 20 minutes at most times of day, 30 minutes evenings. There are still gaps of 40 minutes on some lines on Sunday mornings.

A few have improved, but on most lines at most times they are much the same now as they have been for 30 years.

Let’s face it, with some exceptions, outside peak, most of the public transport system remains pathetically infrequent and slow, especially for a city of nearly five million people — despite increasing all-day demand.

Really, it’s no surprise that most people continue to drive.

The car industry is doing its best to coax us in, and on the other side, every signal from authorities, every pathetic half-baked public transport upgrade, every poorly-programmed pedestrian crossing, every non-existent bike path tells people to drive.

To curb the many problems of the car, they have to do better.

Categories
driving Toxic Custard newsletter

I finally bought a new car

Apologies for the following long ramble about buying a car.

The costs of cars (Do I even need one?)

My prolonged hunt for a new (used) car got me thinking about how much they have cost me… and how long I’ve kept them.

My first car was a 1993 Mitsubishi Magna (pictured above), which I bought in 1998 for, as far as I remember, $11,800. (In 2018 dollars this is about $19,600)

In 2008, by the time it had 215,000 kms on the clock, it was only good for scrap when I sold it, getting back only about $250.

My second car was a 2000 Holden Astra, which I bought in 2008 for $10,990. (In 2018 dollars this is about $13,900.)

At the time it had 117,000 kms on the clock; ten years later it’s now at 180,000, and is basically worth almost nothing, which is a bit annoying as about a year ago I spent $500 on brand new tyres for it.

So basically, the two cars I’ve had have depreciated by about $1100 per year.

What other costs? Insurance roughly $400 per year (though it used to be higher when I was younger). Rego about $800 (this is rising, not reducing).

Petrol: I fill up about 4-6 weeks. Looks like I spent $518 on fuel in 2017.

Maintenance and repairs? So far since the start of 2017 I’ve spent about $1600. This is probably going up as the car gets older, so let’s guess an average of $600 per year.

So in a year, costs of about $3400, over double the cost of my annual Myki fare.

With average annual car travel of about 6300 kms (which is under half the Australian average, by the way) that’s about 54 cents per kilometre.

My usual driving pattern is that I use the car on the weekends, but rarely during the week. Mostly those weekend drives are around the suburbs, but a few times a year it’ll be a longer trip to visit relatives in the country.

What if I didn’t own my own car?

The only car share scheme in my area that I know of is Car Next Door – vehicles cost about $20-30 per day plus about 33 cents per kilometre.

Based on my annual kilometres, that works out to be roughly 20% more than paying to own my own vehicle. If my weekend drives were occasional, it’d probably be cheaper, but not if driving a bit almost every weekend.

Of course if using car share, you’re likely to make more of your trips using other modes. Countering that: my sons are about to learn to drive, so demand for a vehicle may go up a bit.

So for now, I’m thinking I need to continue owning a car, at least until PT is so good that the PTUA has no purpose!

What I want in a car

So I got to shopping. What did I want?

  • 5-star ANCAP rating – Nothing gets you thinking about safety like your offspring learning to drive
  • High used-car safety rating if an older model
  • Automatic — after 20 years of being intimidated by hill starts, I think I’ve had enough of Manuals (and my sons don’t seem interested in learning on one)
  • Cruise control for country driving
  • Something a bit bigger/roomier than the Astra, but not too big, so it’s reasonably fuel-efficient. Small to medium-sized, while noting that small cars are now about the size of that Magna I used to own
  • Reliable/as new as possible, of course. (Just to filter down the options, I decided to stick to Japanese brands, as a synonym for reliability)
  • Preferably white, it’s meant to be safer
  • Nice to have: alloy wheels make the whole car a bit lighter, which may be more fuel efficient, or so they tell me
  • I’m quite enamoured of indicators on mirrors. Possibly they are more visible to pedestrians, but in any case I just like them. I’m not sure why. (Apparently they’re officially referred to as “door mirrors with integrated turn indicator”)
  • Daytime running lights are now a mandated European standard, apparently help safety, particularly with visibility to pedestrians. (I have fog lights on my current car. I don’t think I’ve ever used them.)

What would fit the bill?

Apart from HowSafeIsYourCar, you can also peruse the full MUARC report, though it’s a bit hard to read:

MUARC: Crash worthiness ratings for small cars

Working out the costs of motoring, above, especially the real costs of purchase back in the day, and the money lost in depreciation, made me feel a lot better about shopping for a car in the $15,000 range, to get something as new as possible, and of course with a 5-star ANCAP rating.

After talking to relatives, I concluded that everybody likes the car they drive. Stepfather likes Subaru; sister likes her Mazda 3; cousin likes his Mitsubishi Lancer. (All Japanese brands. Hmm.)

After noting the high safety rating, I did start looking at Subaru Impreza for a while, but there aren’t that many of them about for sale, and you have to spend well over twenty grand to get an almost new model with those nice indicators on mirrors and daytime running lights. Not that they’re essential by any means.

I was also a little nervous about reviews which remarked that Subarus can be a little fussy on maintenance. Which means to minimise risk it’d be a pricey dealer service every time.

So, back to the Carsales web site to do some more searching and researching. (By the way, the Carsales mobile web site lets you search for specific feature in a car, such as Cruise Control. I can’t see that feature on the desktop/standard web site.)

I just bought a new car

While out for a walk the other morning, looking at various cars I saw along the way, I wondered:

Considering I spent over $19,000 (in 2018 dollars) on my first car, back when I had relatively little money, what about upping the budget a bit so I could stop compromising so much and get everything on my list?

I am lucky enough that I can (just) afford to do this.

Mitsubishi Lancer

An ad caught my eye: a demonstration model 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer for $18,500 (drive away price). Retail price for the 2018 model (in automatic) is $21,990.

I like the size and the style (though I could do without the “bum enhancement”).

$18,500 is more expensive than I’d like, but let’s look again at the maths:

  • Servicing on a used car could easily be $500-800 per year, and is often wildly unpredictable, especially the older the vehicle gets. But many brands of new car have capped price servicing. In this case, it’s a maximum of $230 per year for the first three years, so potentially a saving of at least $750 over three years, but even beyond that, repairs are hopefully going to be cheaper on a newer vehicle. (Plus warranty.)
  • A new car also comes with a full year of rego, saving up to $800 — many of the used cars available only have a few months
  • It’s new, so there’s no need to pay for a pre-purchase inspection, saving about $225-250
  • It also comes with four years of roadside assistance, saving about $50 per year (for budget roadside assistance companies) to $105 (the base level for RACV) per year

So in the first four years, potentially a saving of around $2000. And given how much I hate buying cars, I can keep a brand new car for longer.

Suddenly buying a discounted demo car at about $18K seems not a bad proposition compared to a used car at $15K, so I went and test drove it. I quite liked it. It seems odd that the Lancer is being discontinued (and not replaced) at the end of 2018.

Anyway, I decided to go for it. Although it was a demo car, the dealer said it’s actually brand new, sitting in a holding yard somewhere until it can be delivered.

Trade-in? Worth almost nothing, unfortunately, a couple of hundred dollars. But I knew that going in, so at least I wasn’t disappointed.

But we did that little haggle dance around the final “changeover” price, and I did manage to get a bit of a discount, and floor mats thrown in.

The main guy handed me over to a lady who organised payment and delivery, and also offered some extra options like tinting, paint protection… They made the mistake of giving me a minute or two to Google and find this Choice article: Useless car extras revealed, leading me to opt out of those.

So anyway, I’m getting a new car. And not just a new car, but a new car.

It arrives in about two weeks.

Hopefully by the time I’m done with it in a decade or more, electric cars will be plentiful and cheap, and/or public transport will be at a standard where I don’t need to drive regularly on the weekend.

  • Niggling doubt: rather than a sedan, should I have bought another hatch? Will I be cursing myself the next time I need to bring home flatpacks from Ikea? Mind you the specs say it does have the 60/40 split folding seats
  • Of course, having been researching cars for months, every online advert I now see is for cars.

PS: This crash test between a 1998 Corolla and a 2015 Corolla shows the value of newer cars with improved safety features:

…That said, it’s notable that older cars often have poor safety ratings now, but did well in ANCAP tests at the time. They don’t have the 1998 Corolla ANCAP results still available, but the 2009 model scored 5/5 at the time, but only rates 2/5 now based on accident statistics.

Categories
driving

Rego stickers are *so* last year

Lots of cars still seem to have rego stickers on them, even though they are being phased-out — you haven’t needed to have one on your car since the end of last year.

Rego stickers

…from 1 January 2014, Victoria will abolish registration labels for light vehicles, including passenger cars.


How will people know when they need to pay registration?

Although registration stickers will be no longer issued, there will be no change to the traditional reminders which car owners are used to receiving.

VicRoads will continue to send vehicle registration renewals notices around six weeks before registration is due, and a reminder letter will be sent if registration is not paid by the due date.

Vicroads: Discontinuation of registration labels

They also note that most other states have either already abolished registration stickers, or are about to.

Given it’s May and many more than half of cars still seem to have them, I assume many have expired but not been removed.

I peeled sticker off a few weeks ago, well after it expired. It took quite some time to remove completely, but on the bright side, I guess I’ll never have to do that again.

Categories
Consumerism driving transport

Why is Metro allowing this advertising in its stations? – part 2 – Kia #comfortisethis

A couple of years ago I wrote about Nissan Micra ads at Flinders Street Station directly criticising public transport.

This time, it’s Kia’s turn, though it’s a little less overt. Spotted at Malvern (as well as other locations, such as South Yarra):

Kia advertising at Malvern station

You know, I’ve been using public transport for decades. I’ve seen people asleep, but I’ve never, ever had someone fall asleep on my shoulder. Does it really happen, or is it just a cliché?

Kia advertising at Malvern station

I suppose this is not necessarily poking fun at walking as a form of transport, but it could be read that way.

It does strike me that getting a plastic bag caught on your heel may be an “uncomfortable moment”, but on the other hand, research indicates that driving in unsuitable shoes such as these is just plain dangerous:

Adrienne Savoy, a driving instructor for DriversEd.com, said the higher the heel, the more a person is in danger.

“When you’re wearing high heels, it’s nearly impossible for the heel to stay steady on top of the mat, which would delay the reaction time between the accelerator and the brake. Sometimes you only have a second to react, so that could be a split second you have to prevent a crash,” she said.

Even for those of us who never wear heels, we know that travelling by public transport is an order of magnitude safer than driving.

I think I’d rather be uncomfortable than unsafe.

Categories
transport

Compared: Metro rail tunnel vs East West Road – which is more efficient at moving people? #SpringSt

The way the state budget has been framed in terms of transport was almost inevitable: the East-West motorway (stage 1) vs the Metro Rail Tunnel, with the motorway winning this round.

Melbourne Metro tunnel station artists impression

While they are quite different projects, serving (mostly) different markets and (attempting to be) solving different problems, I thought it might be interesting to look at them side-by-side them, based on known facts and some slightly shaky estimates, and using some doubtful metrics to compare.

Project Metro rail tunnel East-west motorway tunnel (stage 1)
Where South Kensington to South Yarra Clifton Hill to Flemington
Estimated cost $5-9 billion $6-8 billion [cite]
Length 9 km [cite] 8 km [cite]
Cost per km $0.56 – 1 billion per km $0.75 – 1 billion per km
Theoretical capacity per hour 30 trains
x 1000 people per train
x 2 directions
= 60,000 [cite]
3 lanes
x 2000 vehicles per hour
x 1.2 people per vehicle
x 2 directions
= 14,400
(or some capacity for freight)
Approx cost per person capacity per hour $83,000 – $150,000 per person $416,000 – $555,000 per person
Stations/interchanges Arden (North Melbourne)
Parkville (University)
Melbourne Central
Flinders Street
Domain
(Unfortunately it appears the tunnel will not include an interchange station at South Yarra.)
Hoddle Street
Flemington Road citybound
Citylink southbound
Citylink northbound
Main trips/destinations served
(excluding future extensions)
CBD
University/hospital precinct
St Kilda Road
Tram connections to inner suburbs
Sunbury corridor
Dandenong corridor
Between Eastlink/Eastern freeway corridors and:
Tullamarine/Airport
Citylink/Westgate
CBD and University/hospital precinct via Flemington Road
Construction funding Zilch so far, only planning money
(0%)
$0.293 billion from the state government
(about 4% of total cost, though it’s suspected some of this is planning money)

As I said, they are different projects serving different markets, and probably shouldn’t be directly compared like this. But there are some points to be made by doing so.

For both, reaching the theoretical capacity depends on removing other bottlenecks, and making sure feeder routes (whether PT or road) are completely optimised. But if you can do it, even the huge cost of underground rail is still many many times cheaper for the capacity brought than underground roads.

The government is talking of the road in terms of “city-shaping”. The problem is it’s city-shaping towards more car dependence, with all its problems and inefficiencies. As some have pointed out, the Eastern Freeway already gets clogged in the Box Hill area — inducing more traffic (motorists heading west from Clifton Hill) is not going to help this; nor is it going to help motorists heading south down Hoddle Street towards the inner-city.

If they were serious about ensuring the efficient movement of the city’s growing population, they’d be investing heavily in the most efficient mode, and helping more people get around more often leaving the car at home (or even ditching one of the cars in their household).

That would be city-shaping, in a good way.

9am: updated with higher $9b rail tunnel cost estimate.

Categories
driving

Fast cars

I was trying to get some photos and/or video for a blog post I’m writing. I’m having trouble finding a source for part of the post, so in the meantime here’s a snippet of video from the pedestrian overpass above the Nepean Highway at Moorabbin.

I might be wrong, but it does appear to me that there’s more than one rev head in amongst this lot. But I’d be reluctant to estimate how fast they were going. Any guesses?

I wonder if they realised they were passing Moorabbin Police station?

Categories
Melbourne

Councils give warnings about overhanging trees blocking footpaths – why not parked cars?

From the City of Glen Eira web site:

Property owners are responsible for keeping trees and shrubs under control and trimmed back to ensure pedestrian safety and clear sightlines for drivers.


If a Council notice is sent requesting that trees or shrubs be trimmed, the work must be completed within 14 days.


Property owners who do not comply with a notice within 14 days will be issued with an official warning notice. This provides a further 10 days to complete the work. If action is still not taken within the required timeframe a penalty notice of $200 may be issued and a contractor engaged by Council to undertake the necessary work. The property owner is responsible for the contractor’s fees.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they were as keen in preventing this far more common intrusion onto footpaths:

Car illegally blocking footpath

This is inconvenient for all footpath users, but can be downright hazardous for those in wheelchairs and other mobility aids, as well as pushing prams and strollers, and children riding their bikes (which is quite legal, I might add).

While you occasionally hear of people being rightly fined for it, it doesn’t seem to be very common.

It’s particularly galling when there is plenty of space on the street (or in the driveway they’re not quite using). People are just being lazy — as well as thoughtless and inconsiderate.

Perhaps a better way for Councils to deal with it would be to do as per the trees: first send a notice advising people not to illegally block the footpath… if they keep doing it, get a contractor to tow the car and charge them costs.

Categories
driving

Pic: Why did the chicken cross the road?

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Yeah yeah, it’s not actually a road. Still thought it was an amusing pic though.

Categories
Bentleigh driving

Lock up your motors

Unlucky pictogram manMy neighbour Bob had his car broken into this morning. He said he heard noises outside and went out to find a bloke smashing up the steering wheel and console, apparently trying to hotwire it.

When the bloke realised Bob was out there he shouted “I’m coming out mate, I’m coming out!” He did so, pushed past Bob and ran down the street. Sounds like the bloke wanted to avoid a physical confrontation.

Bob says he inadvertently left his car unlocked overnight, and suspects the bloke was just an opportunist. He also thinks he may have been affected in some way by drugs, alcohol, or something else.

I’d have to assume a pro could have hotwired a car in seconds, and not made enough noise to rouse people. Bob’s got an older Commodore — perhaps it doesn’t have an immobiliser, though it’s unclear if the bloke would have known that.

The police CSI team came and took fingerprints, but one would guess they won’t have much luck finding anybody… more likely they might pin that on him if they find him for something else.

I thought nobody would try and break into a car in a driveway, because the assumption would be that somebody’s home. The Lady Cop said you can never assume your car in your driveway is safe. Some people will notice an unlocked car and grab gold coins from the coin tray — you wouldn’t even know anything had happened.

Bob’s okay… he was just a little shaken. But his car will need some repairs.

It reminds me that although Bentleigh is a pretty safe, low-crime suburb, it’s good to take care. I sometimes leave my car open, windows down, doors unlocked if it’s a hot day and I’m expecting to go driving somewhere. The lesson I’ll take from this is to at least ensure the doors are deadlocked (which should also activate the immobiliser, hopefully preventing hotwiring) whenever the car is unattended.

Categories
driving

Car servicing: dealer or elsewhere?

Car mirror with no glassThe other week my right hand car mirror lost its glass. I have no idea why. I had adjusted it because I noticed it was out of alignment, then a minute or two later, it fell off and shattered while driving. Bizarro.

I put a temporary $6 concave mirror on it, and in the process walked into Autobarn for possibly the first and last time ever.

But the broken mirror provided the impetus to go get the car serviced, along with the remote locking not working, which had been is a constant pain.

I had previously been going to the dealer I bought the car from, Alan Mance. As long as I was going to them for regular service for the first two years since buying it from them, the used car warranty stayed current, but that’s all over now.

So I thought I’d find the closest dealer, figuring that taking it to a dealer avoids delays with parts, or dodgy repairs because they don’t know what they’re doing. At least that’s the theory.

They had a look, and gave me some quotes (parts plus labour).

Transponder and key cutting… $260. And apparently it’s not the most expensive Holden, either, for keys. Ouch.

They reckoned it needs a new clutch pedal… $30. Yeah, okay.

New glass for the mirror… $177. Ouch. Lucky it was just the glass.

Plus the actual service ($225).

Bloody cars. Expensive.

Plus I had to battle horrible traffic in the rain to get there (remind me not to use Nepean Highway again in peak hour).

Dropping the car off, I knew it was a ten minute walk to the station, but the rain was coming down. A lady was waiting for a cab to the station, and the service guy suggested we split the fare. We waited. And waited.

After about 15 minutes, she noted it’d actually been about 40 minutes since the cab had been called. The rain wasn’t so hard at that point, so I bailed on her and walked. Ten minutes later I was at the station and straight onto a train — a little soggy, but on my way. I found out later the cab never arrived. Marvellous.

The pickup

Coming back in the afternoon, it was dry. I got there about 5:15, only to find (as I’d been warned) the car was still being worked on. It took until just after 6pm for it to be done and dusted, and although the waiting room is terribly nice, it wasn’t much fun to be sitting there, places to go, nothing to do but fiddle with my phone and watch the TV, silently wondering how the constestants on Millionaire Hot Seat could not know that “Northern Exposure” was set in Alaska (rather than Hawaii, Florida or New Mexico, and respite Eddie emphasising the obvious clue of Northern).

The dealer had also found a fault with the reverse lights (in short, they don’t work) for which they don’t have the part in stock. And it’ll cost another $110 including labour to do it. That’s pretty annoying too, but it’ll have to happen.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom: they came up with a rather clever way of avoiding paying for a whole new key, despite a little bit missing off mine which means it doesn’t all stay together well. A piece of electrical tape to keep it intact.

And they let me know what with that model of Astra, it really doesn’t matter if it goes a year between oil changes. Given I barely drive it, this is good to know. I needn’t feel like I need to rush back every six months for a pointless service.

Still, I drove home pondering if I shouldn’t have just gone to Ultratune in Mckinnon, which is a much shorter (especially in peak hour) trip, only a stone’s throw from the nearest station, and undoubtedly cheaper.

Some lessons from this

Dealers don’t necessarily have all the parts you need in stock.

Close is good, because driving through peak hour traffic is not my idea of fun.

Don’t bother waiting for a taxi in peak hour when it’s raining if you’re in a hurry.

Will consider using Ultratune next time, especially if it’s just an oil change and basic stuff like checking brake pads. It’s not like a continuous record of dealer servicing matters for re-sale value of a car that is already 12 years old, and that I have no plans to sell anyway.

What do others do when getting their cars serviced?