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.

Poor GPS Map Data on Aftermarket HUD Car Nav Devices Turns Heads

New aftermarket GPS car nav units have been blamed for a spate of car accidents due to inaccurate map data. The wave of new aftermarket HUD (Heads Up Display) aftermarket car navigation devices over the last few years were ,et with much enthusiasm. Being able to purchase devices like the Garmin HUD (How did they manage to get that as a brand name?) that launched in 2013 for under $200 bundled with a nav unit or $150 on its own, made it the next car enthusiasts must have device (toy). 

With in car options (admittedly including in-car entertainment, climate control, car computer etc) adding an easy $2,000 to the bill for people who could afford a new car, a solution that cost that can go into virtually any car was a great starter for 10%.

Touted as being much safer than in dash systems because you don’t have to take your eyes off the road, it appears to have unwittingly revealed a much more critical situation that has caused stress and confusion and has allegedly resulted in accidents and assertions of liability being placed on the manufacturers of the nav systems.

The reason is that in many cases the map data is either out of date or inaccurate. This means that the driver is seeing both the road in front of them through the windscreen as well as a laser image representation of the road from the HUD. When these do not match and the driver is in a relaxed frame of mind (partly due to confidence in the GPS car nav data) confusion may arise. For example driving late at night or on a foggy morning on a country road with poor visibility and the nav displays a sharp turn (but the road has been realigned) could result in a nasty accident. Urban roads (such as Wellington in New Zealand) where one-way streets were changed to run in the opposite direction are another classic example.

Psychologist John Doe from Lost Highway University said “When drivers used traditional in-dash car nav devices, they relied mostly on auditory instructions, glancing at the nav unit from time to time to confirm the details, but then interpreted the information and commands based on what they were seeing. This meant that if there was a discrepancy in the directions, common sense usually prevailed and they would act on what they actually saw through the windscreen. Since large numbers of people started using HUD systems, they mentally merged the heads up data with what they saw through the windscreen and when they contradicted each other, this caused confusion and stress. It only takes momentary confusion at 50 miles per hour to find themselves in an accident situation,” he explained.

The more sophisticated units such as the Pioneer system released 2013 in the video below, do have some advantages over the cheaper units because they also include character recognition of outside objects such as speed signs. This means that if the car navigation database says the speed is 50 mph but the sign on the road says 30 mph, the navigation instructions will give higher credence to the physical roadside sign.

John Doe went on say that many car nav companies have managed to get their prices very low by purchasing cheap car navigation data and not updating them as often. People accepted that for a low price, they weren’t going to get high detail map updates and because the map wasn’t in their face, they were able to deal with the discrepancies.

Portable HUD car GPS manufacturers are now adding modular components to their systems including WiFi cameras and adding software to their Smartphones and Portable Car GPS devices including character recognition, distance and speed of the car in front and connection to in car entertainment such as streaming audio. Legislators are now looking at enforcement of restrictions, ensuring that drivers can only see car control related information on the HUD, ensuring they can’t be distracted by videos. email messages etc which can also technically be displayed on the screen whilst driving.

I Found the Real Auckland Transport Plan

Everyone thought the new Auckland transport plan was going to be about a second harbour crossing, a tunnel, more busways an extra lanes. The new Labour Government together with Auckland Transport came up with a much cheaper plan and it only took a year to complete!


Yep, it was pretty obvious given input from rich list Kiwi, Allan Gibbs of Aquada fame. he started with cars, then trucks and then he said to the Government (I didn’t get where I am today by building tunnels) why not give me a small fraction of the money you were going to spend digging holes under the harbour and we’ll drive on water?

So now he is building Gibbs Amphibious Buses for Auckland Transport (yes I know Aqua Ducks have been around for years but not for commuters) and we now have a regular stream of amphibious cars going from Gulf Harbour all the way through to the city, the inner harbour, and even a special commuter lane to Onetangi on Waiheke Island. It was pretty obvious really wasn’t it? I just don’t know why they didn’t think of it back in 2013?

The toll booths on the boat ramps can be a bit annoying on sunny days, but I guess that’s the price you pay. The bonus is you can try to catch your dinner on the way home from the office.

Vodafone Phases Out Telephone Numbers

Vodafone has announced that phone numbers will no longer be necessary for mobile subscribers in New Zealand. New and existing subscribers who do not run POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) landlines will from next week have the option of not having a phone number, they will be able to use their own name or a pseudonym username.

7aselectorA spokesperson for Vodafone explained in a brief media Telephony 101 presentation that the concept of phone numbers has evolved from the early days when telephone exchange operators used to manually connect phones. Exchanges automated this process with rotary exchanges with technology such as in this image which is the technology that many New Zealand exchanges such as Wellesley Street in Auckland, where a relay tripped to select each number, then routed the call through to exchanges where typically the first two numbers represented the exchange area. For example Ponsonby numbers all started with 76 and Howick numbers with 83. Over the years this technology became computerised and with number portability the number no longer had to relate to a specific location in the country.

Over the last few years the majority of people communicate with VoIP and numbers have largely become irrelevant. Emergency numbers will remain indefinitely for a number of reasons, but with most people having Unified Communications across their various mobile devices and appliances there just is no reason to maintain an antiquated system. People may continue to use a number if they wish, according to a spokesperson from TUANZ, in support of the baby boomers who are still a large number of people who may no longer have copper wires fed into telephone exchanges, but are more comfortable with the analogue concept of a number.

Production of New Zealand Bank Notes Continues Decline

Cash

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Remember cash? Do you still carry any? In the last few years with eMoney it has almost become non existent. New Zealand was one of the first countries to adopt EFTPOS as a way to reduce the risks and costs around cash management many yeas ago.

With so many people buying everything from groceries to electronics online or on finance, cash has become almost a thing of the past and something Kiwi travellers now find quite novel when we travel overseas.

It has been very interesting for the Government to deal with because in many cases where goods are purchased from overseas, they miss the opportunity to charge GST or other duties when parcels come from overseas in the mail.

New forms of virtual money have appeared and companies like Google, Facebook and Zynga have started creating their own value systems and many new barter organisations have appeared, while the old vanguards such as Bartercard are growing in popularity.

The old system of cash jobs, the grey market is probably the main area still propping up physical currency at all because even money transferred via eWallets through intermediaries such as the Telcos  is still auditable. Out of interest, New Zealand hasn’t minted 5 cent coins since 2004, 20 cent coins since 2008 and the number of bank notes produced has been in decline at a rate of over 10% p.a. since 2010 even though our population has grown dramatically with increased immigration.

It is expected that within another 20 years bank notes and coins will become collectors items and future generations will look at them as an interesting historic item and wonder why anyone ever bothered with them.

New Zealand Rooftops to power the country

Based on research developed by scientists at USC, electricity is being produced on home and business roofs all over the country, feeding the now popular electric cars with sustainable electricity and selling surplus energy back into the grid for all to share.

Liquid Energy

It took a couple of elections and a lot of pressure from the Green Party, but finally the feed in tariffs that we have been asking for over recent years have been implemented.

The tipping point was the ability to create liquid solar cells as nanocrystals that can be ‘printed’ onto other materials. Roof material manufacturers were able to design roofing sheets and tiles which look normal, but are in fact covered with solar cells.

Farmers have welcomed this technology and have covered farm buildings with solar cells reducing the problems caused by power outages in rural areas and reducing their overheads.

In addition to now having a sustainable power infrastructure for New Zealand, this initiative has generated a whole wave of new jobs in roofing materials design and manufacturing, installation, smart metering design and much more.

New Zealand has become a world leader in this technology and has once again been able to proudly call itself a clean green country.

Electric vehicles have become not only more viable with ease of access to electricity, but they are now truly green because the power generated to run them is no longer produced by sources requiring the use of fossil fuels.

Remember Borders Book Stores?

Who’s next?

I was so excited when Borders arrived in New Zealand. I used to love going to the Borders stores on trips to the USA. There were frequently book signings, bands and recording artists, like the BB King autobiography launch in Chicago. You could read books in the cafe and no one would look at you as if to say don’t smudge that page, cause you’re buying it. People in the different departments knew about their topics and loved books and sharing their knowledge.

I walked past the site of the old Westfield Albany Borders store site yesterday, it had changed to Whitcoulls brand in 2012. A year later they were back in a much smaller site, obviously the sales volume didn’t cover the cost of such a big site. They had tried to embrace eBooks for a while, but selling expensive readers and not making it simple for your average reader to get books for them just further demolished their traditional business.

Meanwhile some of the smaller owner operator stores followed the example of retailers such as Pages & Pages in Australia, by installing eBook Kiosks in store back at the end of 2011.

In recent years eBook kiosks have arrived all over the place. They are in convenience stores, magazine stores, libraries, airports and train stations. They all come with their own WiFi network and are very user friendly.

Many combine loyalty and the profiling that we continue to enjoy from Amazon, giving us recommendations on what we may enjoy reading and the instructions are simple enough for most people to step through.

If you’re heading for a flight or will have time to read the book within 21 days you don’t even have to buy them any more. International libraries mean that pretty much any book you could want to read can be available to you on demand.

Personally a favorite feature for me is the international eBook gift registry system. I remember a couple of years ago when I was having a browse at the kiosk at Schiphol Airport on the way back from a location based marketing conference in Amsterdam and saw that my wife had prepaid for copy of the second in the new Stephen King Joyland series for me to read on the flight home. Just as well she doesn’t read King books though or I might never get her into an amusement park again!

The other thing I love about these kiosks is we now get books released all over the world at the same time, which was one of the reasons I used to buy my books from Amazon, I didn’t want to wait 2-3 months after the official US launch of King books before the publishers launched the new best seller here in New Zealand to coincide with Fathers’ Day.

Anyway, RIP Borders, you left too soon. It’s a shame you stopped innovating. You didn’t need to go under, you just needed to be smarter than the rest which you used to be. It’s funny how industries work so hard to create a self fulfilling prophesy that they can blame when things go wrong.

The cool thing is that people haven’t stopped reading. If anything they are reading more than ever and smart writers and publishers are doing very well:)

Mitre 10 Gave Me A Leaf Blower

It was just another ordinary Saturday morning. I woke up, showered, made myself a Capuccino, scanned the now empty milk bottle out of the fridge and listened to the new Rolling Stones album on Spotify. Who would have thought they would be launching another album? I have to tell you mockers, it has some really good tracks on it. Maybe you forgot what great songwriters those guys are.

My wife and I decided to go out to brunch and I plugged my iPhone into my Belkin car mount which still has that bit on the top that broke the second day I got it. I love it but I must get around to claiming on the warranty. It connected to the Wi-Fi entertainment system in the car and we drove off listening to the rest of the album. I must say, whilst I still have all my record and CD collections, that I am loving Spotify. I just can’t believe how long it took them to get to New Zealand.

Anyway, so we were heading down Oteha Valley Road in Albany when the heads up display in my car told me I had a notification from Fly Buys. I used to mock those loyalty systems, but things have changed since they picked up Proximity Based Marketing. Anyway, it said Mitre 10 Mega had an offer I couldn’t refuse if I could get there in the next 15 minutes. Well we were about to drive right past, but we agreed we might as well stop, and their cafe on the 1st floor was pretty good.

We arrived and I put the Belkin in the boot (next car I get the entertainment system will just connect to my phone and it won’t need a mount, isn’t it funny that no matter what advances there are we are never satisfied?) so my car wouldn’t get broken into and were walking through the car park into into the entrance, just as my mobile got another alert.

It said “Welcome back to Mitre 10 Mr Cappel, glad you could make it. Please look up and to your right.”

I did that and all of a sudden there was a bit of loud music and a green light started flashing above the information counter. There were a few people entering the store with us but when the girl called “Over here Mr Cappel”, I figured she meant us.

Well to cut a long story short, I had purchased a new battery powered lawn mower there 6 months earlier and they were running a location based promotion. The deal was that the first person who had bought a lawn mower from them in the last 12 months who responded to the promotion by coming into the store within 15 minutes of the of the proximity based notification, was going to be given a free leaf blower / leaf vacuum mulcher, and guess what, the first person was me. Our neighbors still hadn’t cut down the giant oak tree that bathes my driveway in golden brown crunchy leaves every May, so this was a pretty good win.

Of course while we were there we bought some more plants and had our brunch, did I say they are nice people in that cafe?

I enjoyed sucking up those leaves with my new toy in the Saturday afternoon autumn sunshine (sunny weekend? I know, right!) that afternoon and made sure it got locked up in the shed straight afterwards, so the dogs wouldn’t chew up the bag like the did on the one I bought a few years ago, the day after I bought it!