US Motorists Road User Charge Taxes Create Windfall for Kiwi GPS Developers

The solution to a massive nose dive in US domestic tourism has come from an unlikely source, specialists in GPS vehicle tracking, Road User Charge rebate and electronic in-vehicle tax payments by Fleet Management companies in a place that many Americans couldn’t even place on a map, close to the bottom of the globe, New Zealand.

When the USA introduced national Pay As You Drive road user tax for all other than electric vehicles a few years ago, no one appreciated the impact this would have on a variety of industry segments. The intention was to encourage commuters and urban business travelers to make more use of public transport. Having a blanket rule resulted in a significant negative impact on the cost of living for rural Americans who typically have to travel much greater distances even for basic needs such as food, health, shopping an getting to work. It also decimated the domestic tourism industry.

Whilst rental vehicles were exempted which ensured international tourist numbers weren’t impacted, the tourism industry still  went into free-fall as domestic tourists couldn’t afford the increased cost to their trips. In the last few years US residents ‘for leisure’ person trips have dropped by a staggering 350,0000,000 from the 1.6 billion person trips recorded back in 2012.

Enter new rules designed to encourage people back onto the  freeways and into small town USA, which allowed rebates for motorists who met certain conditions. These included a ratio of distance traveled on non urban roads, or on private roads and proof that the vehicle was more than 100 miles away from home for one or more nights.

In Car RUC System

In Car RUC System

New Zealand Fleet Management solution companies, having had many years developing Road User Charge tax rebate solutions with GPS tracking for commercial diesel fleets, were able to offer a ready made answer. Not only did they have low cost solutions ready to plug in to most vehicles manufactured since 2007, they also had the ability for people to pay those taxes direct from the vehicle and included an in-vehicle display which both Police and the public could use to ensure that taxes had in fact been paid. Several Kiwi companies have now partnered with US organizations including domestic Fleet Management companies and major vehicle brands.

The AAA and insurance companies also welcomed the move as the Fleet Management systems monitor car driving behavior, encouraging green driving and enabling PAYD (Pay As You Drive) insurance, where premiums are reduced for people who don’t use harsh breaking, over-acceleration and other behaviors which reduce risk. Several car and motor-home manufacturers are now considering putting this technology into their vehicles as standard features.

According to US Travel Association research in 2012, 1 out of 8 US jobs depended on travel and tourism (representing 14.6 million jobs supported by travel expenditures), which was in the top 10 income earners for 48 states.

It is hoped that domestic tourism will make a big swing back in the coming year, with the costs of the initial investment for motorists being offset by a variety of discounts, special tourism industry offers and off course road user tax rebates for those who meet the criteria.

Google Glasses Separation Syndrome

Google Glasses and dozens of other brands of Augmented Reality goggles hit the road running for Christmas 2013 and over the next couple of years AR applications went from Wow to business as usual. Today people look at you sideways in many cities if you aren’t wearing glasses. But there has been a downside.  People can’t bear to be without them.

 Not that long ago people had separation anxiety when they didn’t have their mobile with them, then their smartphone. Now its their AR glasses. Hospitals and A&R clinics are reporting many people are presenting with a feeling of vertigo with some patients reporting in an almost psychotic state, saying they feel they have been detached from the real world.

Others are describing the real world without AR glasses as flat, 2 dimensional, when they don’t have access to features they take for granted such as information about locations, deals, games and access to their friends via social media, the ability to take pictures or view them. Many find it difficult to function because they now rely on their glasses to tell them everything from the names of people they ‘know’ through facial recognition (including information on their last point of contact, meeting, email) to public transport timetables or driving directions. They no  longer seem to have the ability to cope without this information beaming onto their eyeballs. The are unable to make decisions and are so used to large volumes of information at their fingertips that they are suffering from sensory deprivation with their eye-wear.

Insurance companies who have benefited from knowing much more about their clients, have been caught by surprise and won’t pay out on claims until the Syndrome has been recognised as an official condition and because they AR glasses are now a way of life, no one really has answers on what to do next.

Long Bay Finally Gets Ferry Wharf Approval

Transport Auckland finally bowed to pressure and has approved a Ferry Terminal installation to cope with the gridlock after heated protests from residents of the new Long Bay development. 

Long Bay DevelopmentLong Bay was highlighted by former Prime Minister John Key as a sign of growth and opportunities for the construction industry back in 2013. It started with 2,500 houses housing an average of 3 people. Then they opened up 3 more subdivisions and another 23,000 people moved into the area.

With 30,000 more people trying to make the trip to school and work, combined with people from all over Auckland heading to and from one of the most popular beaches in Auckland, the roads have been gridlocked. Minor widening of the local roads hasn’t appeared to make any difference.

Jaap Botha one of the early buyers said “This was our dream purchase. A beautiful new home with views of Auckland Harbour. The problem with it is that I hardly get to enjoy it. In order to get to work in the city I now have to leave home at 6 AM to get to the office by 8 and more than half of that time is spent getting from home onto the motorway on-ramp  The total distance is only 21 km!

“By the time I get home its nearly dark. Four hours of commuting at an average speed of just over 10 km per hour is enough to raise the stress levels far higher than the benefit of living in a nice area like this. Property values are going down because buyers don’t want to spend 4 hours in their cars every day either.”

Auckland Transport advised that ferries should be operational from the new Long Bay ferry terminal within 18 months. Locals say this is something they will look forward to, but many will have left the area by then.

President Announces New Moon Base Project Collaboration

President (Hilary) Clinton has announced that the USA is going to collaborate on the creation of a permanent moon base together with China and Virgin Galactic. This base will support further exploration of the moon and provide a stepping stone to explore Mars and other planets. 

Jointly Controlled Moon Base

“Our plan, together with our partners is to create a base which will be both scientific and commercial. This is a 10 year plan which has parallels to that of President Kennedy so many years ago, to put man on the moon before we even knew how to achieve that.” said President Clinton. “Now of course we know exactly what we need to do and how to do it and are in a position to achieve this new dream well within this time. So many discoveries and inventions resulted from the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. We anticipate a new renaissance of technology, bio-engineering and hi-tech industries which will help the USA and its partners grow out of the fiscal slumps of the last 5 years.”

She went on to say, “This initiative will create thousands of new jobs for both the USA and our partner China as new industries that can benefit from low gravity are developed. Additional funding will come from commercial activities of companies such as Virgin Galactic who are going to build a lunar hotel and resort, the rights to do this come with an agreement to provide a percentage of space on their craft as payload for the base development. They have also won the rights to ship finished goods back to China from the lunar factories.”

Branson on the MoonVirgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson, said that he was delighted to be involved in this initiative which will help him realize a lifetime dream to have his own space port and space tourism business. “Some people said I was just a dreamer. I say that if you don’t dream big, you won’t achieve big results.” Virgin Galactic has already pre-sold over 1,000 room nights in their first hotel before the ground has even been broken.

 

Loving the Auckland Ferry Commute

I once said that I would never commute across the bridge any more for any job. Spending an hour each way from home to work just didn’t make sense, what a total waste of time. Well almost, because I used to listen to podcasts on the way that I might not have made time for otherwise, but I have to say I hated it.

Then with the increase in population and the lack of initiative and imagination from Council, NZTA and Government in creating a decent mass transit system it become an hour and a half each way at peak times and still an hour each way in off peak. When Imersia was a relatively small company, it wasn’t such a problem because I could start work from home and head in the office once the traffic died down, but these days it doesn’t really die down at all.

The book Urban Legend that came out back in ’12 said it all. What would Auckland have been like if they had listened to Robbie? We could have been a phenomenally successful city. But we didn’t and now we have a nice ring system that travels at 10km an hour at peak and the Northern Motorway slows to 8km per hour. I used to feel like hopping out of my car on the motorway, leaving it there and running home.

Heading to Long Bay on the Ferry After Work

Then they managed to give the PC brigade the slip and followed the example of Sydney and put ferry wharf’s into Long Bay, Browns Bay and Takapuna and it was problem solved. Our offices are in the Viaduct and commuting is now a pleasure. I walk down to Long Bay, unless its raining, then I park my car in the ‘Park and Cruise’ just up from the beach. I have a flat white on the ferry and clear my inbox using their WiFi, whilst enjoying our awesome coastline on the way into town.

On the way home, especially in winter, I get to enjoy the beautiful city lights, instead of inhaling diesel fumes on the clogged motorway. I just have to wonder why they didn’t do this years ago. More people get to enjoy our North Shore beaches, the wharf’s are great for fishing and strolling along and there are less cars on the motorways. It cost a hell of a lot less to build too.

 

 

The first private enterprise moon landers have arrived on the moon!

These have been some of the most exciting times in space exploration. Since the US Government mothballed the shuttle program and the Discovery was sent to its final home at the Smithsonian, the space program has accelerated at an amazing pace.

Just when you thought it was over, Nek Minute it goes crazy, with over 30 entries into the Google Lunar X Prize, the first 3 landing craft have actually landed safely on the moon’s surface. The $30 million prize reminds me of something out of Jules Verne’s 80 Days around the World. Even more so the great race to find new exciting lands and conquer the world in the days of Christopher Colombus.

Santa Maria

The $30 million itself won’t go far and its more about credibility and the potential mineral and metal mining of asteroids and whatever else they find is much more exciting.

It was little surprise to see the team from Moon Express amongst the first to arrive, as they were able to hire the entire Mars Rover team when their NASA funding was cut.

So what comes next? I guess there will be some interesting debates over mining rights and we will start to see little settlements develop over the next decade as entrepid explorers and wealthy entrepreneurs look for metals, minerals and potentially water that could help them sustain prolonged or indefinate stays on the moon.

Meanwhile Virgin Galactic hasn’t wasted any time and have contracts with a numberr of the entrants to help them get building materials to the moon for the first commercial hotel on the planet. Virgin Spaceship Four has now made dozens of tourist flights out of the atmosphere and is showing wealthy and healthy citizens the first views of their investments into the space hospitality and tourism industry. When it comes to tickets, money seems to be no object for the wealthy who are all desperate to be able to say they were amongst the first. What a shame my grandfather isn’t still around. He won a raffle many years ago giving him a ticket on KLM‘s first commercial flight (which he achieved) and the first commercial passenger carrying space flight, but no one knows what happened to the ticket.

Santa Maria