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?

New Zealand Banks told not to reduce fixed mortgage break fees, I say think again


On Page 5 of this morning’s New Zealand Herald I read a story with the headline Stick to guns on fee, banks told. Now I’m the first to stand up and say I don’t understand the banking economy as well as the bankers and the politicians, the educators and maybe even Liam Dann, who says we are all behaving like whingers. No I have bumped into Liam many times over the years and the experiences have all been good, but in my mind something isn’t gelling for me. Maybe he or some others can explain where my thinking is going wrong.

First, we are in a global economic crisis and times are tough all over. I totally agree with Liam’s assertion that when I signed for a fixed rate, I signed a contract which is a legal document saying that I would pay the rate for the period on the contract and it would cost me to break it. The banks are saying that they can’t afford to subsidise the cost, but they quickly gobbled up the guarantees provided by the government to help move the economy.

Now I said at the start, that I don’t understand exactly how the banks work. I know that when I borrowed my $165,000 the National Bank didn’t rush out and borrow that sum, they would have signed contracts for millions at really good rates and my loan would have been part of a bundle which allowed them to hedge for a profit. Now I understand that the Official Cash Rate is a major influencer in mortgage and deposit rates, but a large part of the borrowing by the banks is in other countries where the rates are much lower than ours.

As to becoming whingers, I’d like to ask Liam if he thought (irrespective of the contract that was signed) we were also whingers when we saw the gap increasing between lowering oil prices and the retail price of petrol. It was public pressure that almost overnight reduced the retail price of petrol, people whinging that they thought the profits weren’t fair.

When I took out a new fixed loan of $165,000 I based my decision on the advice of bank staff, even though they were careful to say that I shouldn’t take their information as an official position by the bank, the decision had to be totally mine. But the thing is they did give me advice, and I do accept that no one saw the crash coming. On the other hand the banks also said after the problems in 1987 that they would tighten up their lending criteria, which they have obviously loosened as time went on.

So here’s the thing. While we were all struggling with how to afford our petrol, New York Times International Tribune told us that Shell Oil increase their profit by 33%! They said their profit rose to US$11.56 BILLION! Around the same time The Guardian reported that BP Oil increased their profit to 6.7 billion POUNDS. Liam did you whinge about the oil price?

Businesses have clout. In my world of business, contracts get broken when companies have the power to break them. They sign legal contracts all the time, but if they decide that their supplier is making too much profit, the implied threats come out, saying that they have a choice and even though they have a contract, often it is only as good as the money that a business wants to throw at it to defend it. This is something I do know about it. When you try to defend your contract, you use meet and discuss the situation explaining both parties points of view and try to find a common ground because you need that business relationship. This is called negotiation in my book, although some people might call it whinging.

Now I’m all for businesses making profit, it is essential for their survival and I want my bank to survive, but I want them to be fair too. The NZ Herald themselves reported that while ANZ – NATIONAL took a huge drop in profit, they still made almost $1 billion after tax. That means after all expenses were paid. The NZ Herald also reported TODAY that BNZ’s profit is up 15% on last year, so forgive me if I don’t stop and give them a minute’s silence in respect of their tough times.

So I’m trying to figure out why Liam has this perspective. Here are some things I have heard about or personally experienced about contracts in the last several years: before they

  • A company agrees to buy products manufactured in New Zealand at an agreed fee for a contracted period of time and a contracted price and volume. The buyer then discovers they can buy equivalent product from a Chinese manufacturer and despite the contract and the money the Kiwi manufacturer has invested in staff and plant, breaks the contract and says I can’t continue this deal because the prices were too dear. Never mind that they were already making an extremely healthy retail profit prior to breaking the contrct.
  • An overseas company buys a NZ company complete with its staff and operations and agrees to maintain all the contracts. They then go through the payroll on a spreadsheet and decree that all staff earning more than $X will be made redundant, but can reapply for new positions where the specification might be modified by 5% at a 3rd of what they used to do, irresepctive of their contribution. The good news for me is that they kept the people who weren’t contributing and areas where they made staff redundant and replaced them with people who were prepared to work for way less, reduced profit and revenue by in one case almost 80%. I think that strategy was illegal, but who wants to burn bridges or be seen as a trouble maker or a whinger.
  • I’m sure if you are reading this you know of similar situations where businesses break contracts with other businesses all the time. They get away with it because one business has more power than the other and the losing party either can’t afford the cost or the consequences of fighting for what is right. If you know of cases like this, or indeed if you think I am wrong, please comment on this blog. As long as it isn’t spam or blatant advertising, I will publish your comment.

So here’s the thing. Banks used to be community organisations. You used to be able to walk into the bank and talk to the Bank Manager. They would know you buy name. They would give you advice and show an interest in you. They introduced technology that people said would turn them into machines, and in many cases it did, but the machines were of benefit to the consumer and business, such as EFTPOS (which I helped in a tiny way to introduce), ATM’s, Internet Banking and more. These investments saved them and their customers in time and money, but particularly made the banks more profitable by reducing overheads and staff.

When I first wanted to borrow my current fixed loan from my bank, with whom I had banked for almost 25 years, I actually got a better deal through Mike Pero Mortgages than I could from the bank directly. How’s that for 25 years of loyalty? I had to get a broker to get me a reasonable deal from my own bank!

So I’ve had my whinge Liam. It seems it ‘s ok for businesses to break contracts with each other and to fight for them, but it’s whinging if a consumer, a customer for many years of a bank that is making big fat profits out of their dealings with them, and gets a helping hand from the government which in many cases is as a consequence of imprudent lending, which after 1987 they said they wouldn’t do to expect a little help as well, well I’ll accept the title of whinger.

Just as a footnote, my local grocer is going back to India to look after his elderly parents after running his store here for 24 years. For all of that time, he has shown a real personal interest in every customer, he knows most of them by name. He has helped many of them out if they needed something and didn’t have the cash on them. I won’t go through all the little things he did for local people, but here’s the thing. The supermarket is much cheaper and for many people closer, but they still buy from him and he is selling a highly profitable business. Profitable not because it is a Four Square, or because of his location, but because he cares, because he is a person doing business with people and we as his customers want to do business with him.

If the National Bank doesn’t look after me, perhaps go halves on the contract difference or something that shows that they care about my business, my family and my future business (because I intend not only to be around for a long while, if the creek don’t rise, I won’t be whinging, I will be moving with my feet.

Now I am not wealthy, I live in a very average neighbourhood, far from affluent. Having been made redundant twice and suffered badly as a consequence and having little faith in the government to give me any sort of lifestyle when I retire I am being prudent. I have a small savings account (which has helped my kids from time to time with studies, with medical costs, holidays and other interests), I have a modest term deposit, suffient to cover 2-3 months of income should I be so unfortunate as to be made redundant again as is happening to many people right now. I have a mortgage on my home and a mortgage on my rental property which breaks even without paying a cent off the capital (and of course in recent times means that it is worth less than the loan (but this is for the long haul and it will come right.

Sorry, if I’m rambling, but this post is personal. If the National Bank doesn’t come to the party, I will go back to Mike Pero Mortgages who have looked after me so well in past. I will ask them to find me a new bank that will take over my term deposit, my checking accounts, my 2 mortgages, my Internet Banking, my EFTPOS account, my credit cards and will tell everyone who will listen. Liam, mate, I’m not being a whinger in my book, I believe that people do business with people. We have a choice and I will be looking very closely to see if one of the banks realises that a short term sacrifice will amply pay great dividends in the long run. I suspect that the bank that does this and continues to recognise that their profit comes from their customers will grow and thrive while the others wonder what happened.

Liam, this is starting to sound like I am having a go at you. Frankly I was annoyed to read your column in the Herald today. Factually you are on solid ground, a contract is a legal and binding document. But consumers do have power and if they don’t use it, the corporates or anyone that can will walk right over them. Over recent years Kiwis became so PC (politically correct) that they let everyone walk over them. They thought  people like Americans and Australians were rude if they complained about a dirty coffee cup in a cafe. The contract was for coffee, there was never discussion over the cleanliness of the cup.That made them whingers. Now more and more people are realising that it not just about the contract, it is about standing up for what is fair, ethical, moral and just. The laws of economics are changing and people have a choice.

If anyone is still reading this soap box and agree or don’t with me, please leave a comment and tell me what you think. I would also appreciate you telling other people about this blog if you think it is worthy. Let’s remind the banks and everyone else that those who recognise and respect their customers will in future grow and thrive, those that don’t might be sitting at home reading reading the situations vacant and wondering what happened and thinking how unfair life is.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Cultural Differences and Global Peace


I consider myself to be really easy going and in New Zealand we live in a multicultural country which most of the time works really well. I have grown up with friends and family from a variety of races and backgrounds from all over the world.  Usually if I walk down the road I nod and say hello to people coming the other way and in NZ pretty much everyone returns the greeting without further thought.

Earlier this week I was in The Netherlands and there was a Muslim Cleric visiting Amsterdam who was quoted in the news as saying that no Muslims should be friends with any people in The Netherlands who were not also of the Muslim pursasion. I couldn’t understand if people want to feel that way, why they leave their homelands and go to other countries where the majority of people do not share their faith. I believe that all people are equal, but I also feel that all people deserve equal respect.

In New Zealand we generally celebrate other cultures and respect their religious beliefs. I have enjoyed occassions such as Diwali and Chinese New Year and take the opportunity to enjoy their cultural displays, their food, buy CD’s of their music and generally think viva la difference. It seems though that in some countries relations are different to what I have expected and changes that are happening are not imho for the good.

When my late grandmother was still alive, I used to visit her in her home in Oosterpark where she, (Elisabeth Augustin) as a respected and famous authoress was the curator of  and lived in the Witsen House (now also with graffiti in a foreign language), a museum which was once the home of Willem Witsen, a famous Dutch artist and member of the Tachitigers, a group of artists, poets and authors my grandmother worked hard to have recognised for their influence in the history of Amsterdam’s culture.  The last time I saw her, she was 98 and lived off liquid food and she asked me to get her some from a local chemist store. Her instructions were a little vague so I tried to ask a few local people for instructions. I couldn’t find anyone that spoke Dutch or English that could give me any assistance. Anyway……..

On Wednesday I flew from Munich to San Francisco (where with incongruity everyone was celebrating a new highlight in the history of racial equality) with Lufthansa and there were a large number of Muslims on the plane. The women were mostly covered from head to foot and with one exception, ignored everyone including myself with a determination. The German people on the plane were friendly (probably thinking I was also German given that I was flying from Germany and with my mother having been born in Germany, don’t look dissimilar to them).

As I watched the movie Traitor (I have a habit of reading books or watching movies that seem to associate with my situation) I felt very uncomfortable. The guy seated in front of me was reading a heavy duty edition of the Koran and was passing smaller paperback copies to other passengers. They didn’t seem to know each other, although I could be over dramatizing the situation, and it seemed odd to me that these guys walked around the aircraft handing out these books to other passengers. A number of people were walking around the plane talking to each other, looking up and down the plane and, while it was possibly simply people acknowledging others of the same belief, it was the way they studiously avoided anyone who looked caucasion, throughout the whole 12+ hour flight.

I guess it probably comes down to what you are used to, but my experience is that whether you share beliefs or not, you treat everyone with respect unless they do something that causes you to feel otherwise. Like many people I am concerned about peace in the Middle East and what the future will bring. I believe that the same conflicts that occur because of oil will soon begin over drinkable water and given that we don’t always need petrol or other oil based fuels, we can’t survive without water.

It seems that there are people and (as has been the case for thousands of years) who feel that they have more rights than others and will do what they can to take land or resources from those they perceive as having less rights than themselves. I believe as an idealist in world peace and when I am in New Zealand I feel as though it is possible, but when I have experiences like the one I had on the plane earlier this week, I wonder if it will ever be possible. I have always been and hopefully will always be an idealist, but am feeling a little more concerned. It reinforces the reasons why I chose to live and raise a family in New Zealand.

Through distance we in New Zealand are largely isolated from the rest of the world and the conflicts that abound. I’m not sure of that will remain the case when the water refugees start to come here, but hopefully we will be able to maintain our friendliness and acceptance of people of all colors, creeds and beliefs. But to some degree for that peace to exist, the new immigrants also have to assimilate to some degree. Of course they should continue their beliefs, maintain their language and teach their children their cultures, but they should also learn our language and as we are, be tolerant of others who may not share their beliefs.

People who want to set up their own settlements, and show disdain to our environment and feel that they have more rights than others, should seriously consider staying in their own countries and continue their intolerence of people from other parts of the world. If they can live in mutual respect, then they will be made welcome.

OK, now I will get off my soap boax, but I have to say I am pleased to be home:)

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Will New Orleans be the first major city to be abandoned because of Global Warming?


Climate change is occuring at a faster pace than anyone anticipated and the evacuation of New Orleans for the 2nd time as a consequence of Cyclone Gustav could portend the first city that is changed or even abandoned as a consequence of global warming.

We have known for some time that some of the Pacific Atolls could end up under water (what about parts of Hawai), but I don’t think anyone predicted that they would be telling 2 million people to leave their homes again. Many of these won’t go back to try to establish their lives yet again and if they hadn’t lost many of their valuable posessions, especially the heirlooms, family photos and other things that can’t be replaced by insurance, you could understand why they would not want to go back, even if they have their roots there.

What happens when you have a city that noone wants to live in? When the insurance companies no longer want to cover property in the area, homes or contents.

We have known for a few years that some of the Pacific Islands and atolls could disappear as the sea level rises, but we didn’t anticipate something this bad so soon especially on the US Mainland.

Climate change is happening fast and in my humble opinion, now is a good time to start thinking about where you live and whether your home is at risk. I don’t think the real estate values in New Orleans will hold in future. I suspect that if you find a house you want and are prepared to put a roof on it, or clean the mud, silt and top soil off the carpet, that you can have it.

So now have a think about your own home. Is it safe from weather extremes? If the sea rises a couple of metres, will you still be above the water level? Will you be able to get supplies, fresh water and food? What about electricity or gas? All the things you take for granted.

In New Zealand there have been lots of stories about what to do in an emergancy, the yellow pages have guides as to what to stock up on, but if we took a poll today and asked how many households in the cities could last a week or more without the utilities, it would be very few.

What about all those people who have bought nice waterfront properties. Even by normal extremes some of them have had water on their doorstep. I know because in a couple of storms I wave skied into their backyards. So what will happen to the property values of waterfront homes? Would you buy one right now?

The USA has many areas that are prone to severe weather conditions. In fact if they are everywhere. The likelihood is that if they are bad now, they will become significantly worse over the next few years. Something to think about if you are moving to another town or state. Other parts of the world are feeling it too. In New Zealand we are having floods on top of floods and now roads are getting buried under slips and landslides are forcing people to evacuate their houses. Africa and Australia are experienceing drought while India and parts of Europe get flooded. The European government is trying to shore up plans to help water regugees.

Through all of this, unless you are in an emergency zone, or supporting refugees, chances are that you have been thinking, I’m glad I don’t live there, or this will never happen to me. Think again, very soon.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)