How to Get an Honest Fare From a Cab Driver


There is an international conspiracy. I’ve said it before. They get all the people who want to be taxi drivers, to a secret location, indoctrinate them in how to milk a fare and then send them to countries they haven’t been to before and where hey don’t speak the local language. 

This morning I read a blog on Freakonomics, entitled Why Don’t More Professional Drivers Use Traffic-Enabled GPS?. It’s obvious isn’t it? They want to get the biggest fare out of you that they can.

One way to get an honest fare out of a cab driver is to agree on it in advance. That’s easy if you know what it is worth.

Airports

Airports

Airports are a prime opportunity and I’ve been ripped off in more countries than I can remember at airports. In New Zealand there is a great service called Air New Zealand Taxis. You can select from 14 airports, enter details like your start or end address, what flights you are taking and then select from a variety of taxi types. I note they even offer helicopter now, but I don’t think that’s an option for the budget conscious.

So you choose which mode of taxi you want and they guarantee to get you to the airport on time. You pay in advance and they even monitor the flight arrivals and departures so if your flight arrives a couple of hours late, your taxi driver will still be waiting for you holding up one of those cool board with your name on it.

If they make a mistake, as one did with me last year and overshoot your freeway exit and have to take a 15 km detour, it’s their problem, and doesn’t decrease the thickness of the lump in your back pocket (if you still carry folding).

Back to traffic. I have been a TomTom Go Live product user since they launched in New Zealand and Australia and it is awesome! It is good because they have good data derived from a combination of fleet managed vehicles (large numbers of them) and data from TomTom users. The GPS Car Nav PND’s have a SIM Card in them and get their data in real time (within seconds despite coming via Berlin). What makes it really powerful is the algorithms in the background that know how to interpret data.

I have been involved in car nav and the development of real time traffic in NZ and Australia and have worked with several brands of car nav. I have seen good systems and not so good systems. Now I must admit that my current TomTom is a little dated, but it has the latest map data. It’s probably time for me to do some testing of the latest devices and apps from various brands, but if you are wanting to know what the best device is for you, this blog is still worth a read.

Like a lot of guys, I believe I have a great sense of direction. However, I have learned that the GPS car nav is better at it than I am. It looks at all the possible ways I can go and pretty much every time I thought it was wrong, it was me that was wrong. It also keeps evaluating, when it has real time traffic. Often while I am driving, my TomTom tells me that I am still on the fastest route, or that there has been an incident and there is now an alternative route which will save me (x) minutes. I now trust it.

That doesn’t mean I trust all real time traffic apps. I have tested other apps in the past which interpreted normal rush hour traffic as an incident and led me to take a longer route which was unnecessary. There have also been times when I knew where I was going and didn’t bother using my TomTom with real time traffic to disastrous results,

So back to keeping the cabbie honest. The easiest answer is to take your trusted car nav application with you and tell the driver where you want him to go. Remember, you are the customer. If he isn’t happy with that, grab his taxi number, get out and find another one who is more trustworthy.

So, how about it? Tell me your taxi stories. I’m keen on the good, the bad and the ugly. Please share a comment. What real time traffic navigation  products have you used? How did you find them?

It’s Hard For Retailers To Embrace New Mobile Marketing Technology


I’ve been engaged in a conversation in a mobile marketing group LinkedIn discussion where people involved in solutions such as mobile coupons are complaining that retailers are intellectually lazy and not looking to embrace new technology.

I argued that most retailers focus on BAU (Business As Usual), working in their business employing strategies and technologies they have used for years, which they understand and can deal with. They do not spend anywhere near enough time working on their business, including strategies to embrace new technologies.

sold outMany retailers have been hurt by one-day deal companies, where they gave up 50% and more in GP in the hope that if they gave great service, they would win new loyal customers. Of course we now know that didn’t work and the only ones that made big money out of it were one-day deal companies. They didn’t have to invest in inventory or carry any risk to speak of.

I’ve presented at a number of conferences on the topic of mobile and location based marketing. What I found really sad was that of all the delegates, the number of retailers at these events could generally be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I’ve been looking at how I could help retailers, particularly in New Zealand and Australia with solutions available today in a cost effective way. I think I have come up with a solution, but its going to take me a fair amount of time and money to deliver.

I will start in the area of Travel and Tourism, largely because they are more focussed on customers who are actively looking for services and new experiences and the industry is used to investing to win new business. Their market is also tough and the traditional business services continue to largely support those who own the systems, ie reservation engines, directories, commissions to tour operators, rather than retailers themselves. These businesses are easier for me to access and easier to quantify direct ROI. Also the individual transactions often have a higher dollar value, so if I can demonstrably increase their cashflow and profit and share in the gain, I can recover my costs more quickly.

I was thinking about how hard it is to get retailers out of the shop to talk to them and from years of calling on owner operator retailers in the past, trying to talk to them in their own environment with customers in store, that’s all but impossible.

So I’m thinking retail readers, if there are any here, and would welcome your feedback on the best way to get in front of you and your peers. The problem is that most of them will never read this. The majority do not attend retail conferences, they don’t even participate in their own main-street organisations. They don’t even do something as simple as co-promote their neighbours. I remember years ago hearing Mark Blumsky (past retailer and Wellington Mayor) talk at the New Zealand Retailers Association conference about how he collaborated with his neighbours by giving away free coffee coupons at the next door cafe to people who bought shoes from him and the cafe gave discount coupons for shoes to their patrons. Leading retailers (because they were at the conference) all talked about it during the lunch and coffee breaks, but I don’t know if a single one of them ever emulated the exercise.

We have amazing free services such as Foursquare and people have probably used one of these apps to check into your store. They may even be your Foursquare Mayor, but you probably don’t even know what Foursquare is.

You need to embrace mobile technology and I want to help. But you’re probably not reading this, so you will have to wait until I have helped some other people first. If you are reading this, leave a comment, connect with me and others who want to see Australasian retailers thrive and grow in this exciting new world. Learn at your own pace, but please step outside of BAU and do something. One little step a day is 365 steps a year and that’s quite a lot.

Planning a Road Trip


Yesterday I wrote a blog called Location Based Lessons from FIT USA Road Trip and I am going to write a series of blogs about this experience.

At first it wasn’t going to be a road trip. As a songwriter I wanted to go to Memphis and Tennessee. I also wanted to go to places that neither I nor my wife had been, so all our experiences would be mutually new.

I would have loved to go to the Country Music Awards in Nashville, but we were too late to get tickets and accommodation in and around Nashville was up about 400% during the festival week. I googled tours for the Tennessee area and the awards and came up with pretty much nothing. There was a tour from Australia, but I really didn’t want to spend a couple of weeks with Aussies. It turned out there was a NZ tour going, I actually met them randomly in Chattanooga including getting a hug from the fantastic fiddler Marian Burns, who had so much fun playing that she had lost her voice. It was odd being in a country where people think NZ is either in Australia or somewhere below Wyoming, one woman said NZ is fabulous, they have some amazing homes in the Balkans, but I digress and she was from Alabama:)

So I contacted a few travel agents in Auckland. I visited a few and asked for brochures for the USA. No one had anything other than cruises. I then went on websites and phoned a few, saying I would like a rental car and to basically do a 3 week driving tour, focussing on Tennessee and Mississippi, based around music and history. What could they do for me. I quickly found out that they had no experience in the USA and the options they came up with made very little sense and were hugely expensive. They were not particularly helpful and their ideas ranged from fly to Chicago and drop the car back in Kansas to why don’t you do a tour of Canada. Their quotes for flights and rental cars were way above retail. They didn’t tell me about interstate drop off fees and I ended up doing half the work for them and still found them wanting.

So off to the net and DIY from scratch. The first thing I did was find the Tennessee Tourist Development Department who kindly posted me a tour book and map of the State. This was hugely helpful. I spent a lot of time reading, using Post It Tags and looking on Google Maps. I searched some car rental sites and found that Thrifty had the best deals by far and I managed to get a Ford Escape SUV for under half of the best prices that NZ travel agents offered me.

The next step was, while I wanted to be a FIT traveller, I needed somewhere to crash on the first night in New Orleans as we were arriving around midnight. I installed the Booking.com application which was recommended to me and booked an airport hotel, The Days Inn, for the first night, a couple of weeks in advance. I didn’t want to pick up a rental car in a city and start driving on the wrong side of the road at midnight after about 30 hours of travel and little sleep. The nice thing with Booking.com is that you can book and provide your credit card details, but in most cases if you cancel within a certain time, they don’t penalize you or take your money.

I also installed TripAdvisor on my iPhone and iPad which was both my lifeline and my nemesis. More on this in upcoming blogs. I relied heavily on the reviews on TripAdvisor and they never let me down. TripAdvisor was the best app I used on the whole trip, but it was incredibly time-consuming. It told me that The Days Inn was closest to the airport, had a free shuttle to the airport and that many rooms had noisy air conditioning. I figured we were going to be so tired it wouldn’t matter and I was right.

TripAdvisor is an excellent location based services application for not only acccomodation, but also places to eat and things to do. Of all the apps I used, this was the best, but it still left me wanting. This was a great lesson for me as a location based services and mobile data evangelist, eating the dog food so to speak. As I mentioned in the previous blog, I have learned so much on this trip and the big lesson is that if you are not a geek, then you have a massive learning curve with mobile data location based apps as available today. If you are a developer, particularly down under, you have brilliant opportunities to develop new applications that are more user friendly, and I can help.

mPass iPhone App

I then started planning for the next 2 nights in Louisiana, which I will discuss in my next blog. I will mention that we placed a bid on MyAirNZ for a Skycouch as this was my wife’s longest flight to date (Auckland to Los Angeles) and we had 2 more flights straight after that to get to New Orleans. We were told that we could bid for upgrades using airpoints and considered that as an option but looking at the Premier Economy that looked really impressive (and obviously felt so, looking at the big grin of a retired senior politician beaming at me from one of them on the return flight to NZ) they didn’t allow you to lie down, or get anywhere remotely like that. If there are two of you and you are happy to lie down in spoon position, I’d go with the cheaper Skycouch option and note that if they are not all sold, they get cheaper the closer you get to the flight, although there is a risk that if you wait too long you miss out.

I also installed Air NZ mPass on my iPhone which I also strongly recommend you add to your smartphone. It was quite helpful at times, which I will also explain later, at least when it comes to Air NZ flights, but not very helpful for code shares where it pretty much failed.

In my next blog I will discuss my next two days and how the American tourist and hospitality industry is getting really well-connected when it comes to mobile apps, social media and web sites, but there are major disconnects between having the apps and doing something with them. They appear to be ahead of New Zealand when it comes to business prescence on apps and websites, which is something NZ travel and tourism businesses need to address, because inbound tourists are going to have expectations I don’t believe we are meeting. A large percentage of those tourists will have smartphones and expect more. On the other hand, whilst everything looks wonderful, many properties pay lip service to social and location based media after they have invested in the technology and completed the app sign off. This is a similar attitude that many properties have to their web sites. Build and forget.

Want to know what happens next? Subscribe to this blog and wait for the next one which won’t be far behind.

Creating jobs with FIT for renewable energy


So how about this picture. If the Government gives us interest free loans to install solar panels on roofs, we could reduce the need for expanding coal and oil based electricity, whilst maintaining our geothermal and hydro production.

The Government would set up Feed In Tariffs enabling power companies to purchase spare power units to feed in to the grid to supplement its own resources and those of the community as and when required.

The technology would include smart meters where appliances and power consumption may be monitored by the consumer This is already available in NZ from companies such as SmartNow. This is very important because it educates consumers of all ages  as to the impact of each household appliance.

Smart Meter

You would be able to monitor this on your SmartPhone as well as the touch screen in your home, perhaps even control appliances remotely. Now you will know if you turn your 3 TV’s off instead of having them on stand by, exactly how much energy and cost you are saving.

Many of our household devices are developing sufficient intelligence to be turned on and off remotely. This can apply to anything from your stove or microwave, to your TV Set Top Box, washing machine, heating etc.

Kiwis are very clever. With a little encouragement and support, we could have people coming up with new technologies for smoothing power, sharing and reticulating, designing solar panels that look good and work more efficiently in our environment.

Whole new industries and thousands of jobs would come out of this. Educators, estimators, designers, manufacturers, installers, inspectors, service people, finance companies, new boutique electrical companies, to name a few.

New Zealand is an island and we can be potentially isolated from gas and fossil fuels, especially if the worst happened and a serious war broke out somewhere on the planet.

Do you think that in the Middle East, Europe or USA, they would be saying, oh don’t forget New Zealand, we must set aside x number of tonnes of crude for our antipodean mates down under? But I digress. We are smart people and I think we could create not only some serious domestic growth, but our inventions spawned from this adventure could also contribute to some huge potential export revenue through the innovations that we would produce.

We also made a commitment to being clean and green. Digging up coal and gas doesn’t exactly honor that commitment, although I agree we need the money. Maybe we can’t do it with solar and wind alone, but if we could produce even half of our requirements from our roofs whilst at the same time reducing power consumption through smarter use and education, wouldn’t that be cool?

We could also lead in international design and R & D, with companies like Fisher & Paykel in the development of new technologies that burn much less power, including heating, consumer electronics and more. We need revival of new companies like Gallagher, Rakon and Taits, which have shown that we can be world leaders in technology. Those number 8 fencing wire companies we are so proud of.

The problem is that all of this needs to start with the politicians and all I seem to hear from them is that the coal, oil and gas is worth a lot of money and we should sell them. OK, if we need to do that because New Zealand is insolvent, then do it, but put the money earned into renewables, try to make ourselves self sufficient and then develop export revenues by exporting the technologies we built and developed locally, exploiting our IP. Kiwis are smart people.

Come on National, Labour and Green Parties, lets take a long term view beyond the next election. Change only happens when you do something different. Make it happen and you can have the credit if that is what drives your ambitions, but lets show our leadership.

I didn’t mention tourism, but I don’t think people really buy into clean green anymore. Lets show them we can be clean and green and beautiful and then generate export revenue out of our new skills and industries.

As a footnote, a quote by Farrell J. January 2011 on the Ontario FIT which started in 2009 from New Rules Project:

Ontario’s clean energy program encourages local ownership and distributed generation, in part to broaden support for renewable energy and in part to capture the increased economic impact generated from local ownership.

The domestic content requirement has already resulted in the promise of 43,000 jobs and dozens of new manufacturing plants to support the 5,000 MW of new clean energy.

As a footnote, imagine if the panel didn’t have to be on your roof, but could be on every one of your windows and you could see through it? That’s what MIT is hoping for. 

What FIT’s could do for NZ


Having teased the concept of Feed in Tariffs over the last few blogs  I’d like to get a bit more detailed. So in NZ the government has provided subsidies for roofing insulation, especially for older houses that were not built as efficiently from an energy perspective.

That is good in that it may reduce the need for heating, which is the biggest consumer of energy. A large percentage of energy sources pollute the atmosphere, damage the ozone layer and produce carbon waste. I’ve explored the fact that solar power is a renewable source that produces very little waste, mainly in manufacturing, packaging and installation, marginal issues.

The ideal scenario for me is interest free loans from the Government to cover the cost of purchase and installation of solar panel systems for both domestic and business. There are some lessons overseas where businesses have exploited the opportunities for subsidies and rebates and in some cases they have benefited from the interest free finance and feed in tariffs more than the public. This needs to be considered, but even where that happens, they are still producing energy in forms preferable to oil and coal and other non renewable or potentially dangerous sources.

So the basic idea is that consumers can get an interest free loan to have solar panels and related equipment installed in their homes. The systems include meters and technology that allows people to understand how electricity is being used in their homes, where is it being wasted. They can use the power they generate for free (keeping in mind they do have a long term loan to repay) and when they have excess power, they can sell it to the power companies for a tariff that is mutually agreeable.

A key point that I have raised through out this discussion is redundancy in the case of emergencies. Every time we have had a major emergency people have been without power. As recently as the aftershocks in Christchurch yesterday 17 April 2011, parts of Christchurch were without power for a couple of hours, but previously it has been days and weeks.

UK has had local FIT’s for a couple of years and other countries have had them for several years. There have been many benefits from this. One of the big ones that people don’t automatically think about is job creation. This happens at all levels. Industries to benefit include finance, manufacturing, installation, inspection, education and more. One of the great things about not being first in the industry, we can get our clever Kiwi inventors coming up with new technologies and inventions which will find a ready export market. Many new industries will spawn from this as new developments are made. Mobile technologies will allow control of what appliances are active from your smart phone. You’ll be able to turn off non essential appliances when you are at work, on holiday etc, whilst still monitoring what is going on and being able to turn the hot water back on while you are on your way home.

For business there is the rent a roof program where people can generate income from their roof, while someone else looks after generating the power and selling it into the grid and to the building occupier. This is extremely scalable. In fact in the UK, many roofs rented by power companies are domestic!

Rented roof

Electricity, Earthquakes and other Disasters


So in this series motivated by the Canterbury Earthquakes and particularly Christchurch, I have looked at how prepared we were and what personal lessons we could take away. I asked is it now business as usual, have we gone from maybe it could happen to me, to phew, glad that’s over and we’re good for my lifetime?

 

I don’t think the people of Dannevirke thought so this week when the 5.1 hit there. But then, were they planning on getting prepared before that? Possibly not. Are Wellington people still watching?

I talked about putting together an emergency kit and all the things that Civil Defence recommend you should have both for in the home as well as a kit that you can have ready to throw in the car last minute. This could be useful for so many things, not just earthquakes. In NZ and Australia fires, floods, volcanoes are just a few reasons for people to have to bail in a hurry. If you prepare a getaway kit and never ever need it, that’s great:)

I had a look at community issues and remembering or meeting your neighbors. This is really only a starting point and I want to come back to this in future because once we get over the physical wounds, the things we can see, we are going to have to deal with the psychological outcome. I believe we are going to be dealing with a whole city suffering from PTSS. We are starting to see small examples such as when people are visiting areas of Christchurch that have been closed to them. The tears are good and the visits will help with acknowledgement of the situation and belief in the recovery, but there are still people n0t able to get their cars back let alone go back to their places of work. There are still buildings being torn down.

There are kids who won’t sleep in their own rooms at night. There is an underlying emotional distress of an order that NZ has never had to deal with before. People will be saying I’m OK Jack, but many of them are not. I have some ideas on this, but it will be a separate blog.

I started on the insurance saga, this was before the EQC story and the AMI bailout.  I don’t know about you but I’m getting concerned about banks and insurance companies getting massive bailouts.

They are always talking about the risks they take in consumers, but it seems like perhaps it is the people taking the risks. Should we pay premiums to insurance companies, trusting that they will re-insure and spread their risk and spend a minimum of our premiums on sharing profit amongst employees and shareholder dividends, at least until after they know they have the necessary reserves for major disasters.

Insurance is like playing poker machines or lotto, it is about risk. If a gambler blows their rent money at the casino, does the Government bail them out? Rhetorical question. But when the banks get carried away and over commit themselves to loans that don’t stack up, when insurance companies commit themselves to risk they can’t cover and the government bails them out, it isn’t some nice friendly uncle we’re talking about. You and I are the Government. That money comes from our taxes. It means more pressure on minor things in our community such as education, health, taxes.

So I was wondering, if an insurance company has failed in managing its risk, is it in fact guilty of trading while insolvent? Should the $500 million bailout go to them, or should it go to a liquidator to share amongst the people who bought policies from them in good faith? How much of the bailout goes to the people waiting on insurance payouts? Would you like an answer?

I wrote about the lessons we learned about the telecommunications companies and I have to say I think the telcos did a great job. There are things you can do as well to be able to continue to communicate without power to run or charge your phones. Have you changed anything since then?

Today I wanted to write about electricity, but I’m at 681 words already and there is a fair bit I’d like to stay, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on electricity and emergencies, you could subscribe to my RSS feed or bookmark this page. I think you might find what I have learned interesting.

I also want to write about green power and particularly about solar power schemes, following on from my blog a couple of years ago on Feed-in Tariffs. I’ve learned a little since then and I’m not sure the Government has. It was great to see Bunny McDiarmid from Greenpeace on TV1′s Close Up last night talking about the Petrobas oil exploration and the tension between that and our ‘renewable energy policies’. But I have to wonder where the Green Party is right now. This is a huge opportunity for them in election year to discuss solar power opportunities which are really starting to prove effective in many countries around the world through FIT programs. More on this in one of my next blogs…………….

In the meantime, here’s a video that explains the installation of a PV system on a house in Puget Sound.