Thursday, June 12, 2008

I did not say it!

I don't have much to add to this article: British cities shun London’s wasteful car tax - Times Online

"[...] overheads are now so high that they burn up the equivalent of almost £4 of a standard £8 charge. Money
raised to improve public transport has been cut by 10% in the past year.

I've always thought the congestion charge was quite a daft idea, a return to the middle ages or later turnpikes and toll-gates. I am all for better public transport, more bus lanes and cycle paths, trams, etc... But I don't see the point of reserving the centre of London to an elite nor to make it more difficult for cars to get around via light phasing, cul de sacs, narrow lanes, etc... It just creates unncessary pollution.

Tags: , , , ,

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How to keep customers (happy)

In my previous post about The great holiday ripp-off... I spoke about Expedia and Hertz, on baby car seat rental charges and thought I'd let you know the rest.

I've complained to both companies about the doubful practice of allowing you to rent a device to make your children safe while refusing to let you know how much it will call you. Hertz came back to me (only after I threated to blog about it) and said they will refund me EUR33 -half of the charge.

And as good news never comes alone, Expedia also called me back because I complained my rental accomodation was far from being clean (we had to bleach-wash the fridge before storing anything). They will refund me £200 on my holiday bill, which is much welcome.

Note to self: I should have known better, since a great feature of the Expedia web-site is that it allows clients to rate their hotels/cottages. This is good use of the Web 2.0, I really like it.

So while it's best to make sure you don't make your customers unhappy in the first place, Hertz and Expedia deserve brownie points for addressing my complaints.

My advice: ALWAYS write to the customer department. It's not only that you might be compensated but it's also a service to the company (poor service will kill a service company) and other customers.

Tags: , , , ,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The great holiday ripp-off...

A cautionary tale today because it's bad enough that the Euro makes holidaying on the Continent much more expensive.

Car Seat Hire with Car Rentals Companies

We've rented a car through Expedia and Hertz came up at a quite competitive rate (about £85 for a week -you can only figure out this by removing or adding the car to the trip as Expedia doesn't provide a breakdown). I've asked for a car seat and was told by Expedia they could not get the price before and would need to see on the spot.
So we turn up at the aiport and they tell me a car seat it... 66 Euros! I complained on the spot and raised the matter with Hertz customer service which answered they "[were] sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with the price of the child seat you received. Unfortunately this is the locations privilege to quote a price for the additional equipments.
[We are] sorry [we] cannot be more of a help for you now.
" I've came back threating to make sure I would tell as many people as possible and blogged it. And to their honour, they came back and said they'll refund half.
Which is nice, but a shame putting things right needed a an argument.

My advice: either check-in a your own car seat (make sure you have a good travel insurance, I got one damaged between Pisa and Gatwick on Monarch once) or if you arrive not too late, buy a cheap one from a local supermarket. Oh, and by the way, do check the car thoroughly before you go: the first one Hertz wanted to give me had a flat tyre and the other one was dented all over. Do make sure you take pictures before you leave the rental company parking, it may prove useful if you misplace the rental contract.... And make sure they charge what they're supposed to: Avis two years ago tried to apply me a different tariff than I had booked!

Bank charges
I have a Coventry Building Society current account because it pays 5.60 AER without cap, however their charges for cash withdrawals abroad are steep: up to £3.50 for EUR200 (2%). I was with Citibank before and they don't charge for getting money out of the wall overseas. But then their interest rate on current accounts is misery. So,do check the charges carefully and try to pay using a credit card without fixed charge such as the Nationwide Cash Reward.

Air travel
Did you book a cheap air ticket with a low cost carrier? Just check how much luggage you bring, make sure you bring your own sandwiches and turn up way in advance: Ryanair once closed it checkin desk although it was over 40mn before the flight and we were in the right queue. The guy just left the counter! At first they were not even rebooking us and it took a 10 mn heated conversation to fly us to Limoges or Bergerac instead of Bordeaux. Quite inconvenient as you can imagine...
On the luggage front, most low cost charge you for checking in stuff: remember you always bring too many shoes, that you can wash clothes and buy shower gel anywhere in the world!

Read also in The Guardian: BA and Virgin face compensation deluge
Apparently "British Airways and Virgin Atlantic face a compensation deluge after agreeing that any passenger who flew long-haul on those airlines between August 2004 and March 2006 can claim a £20 refund per journey following a $200m (£102m) legal settlement."

PS: read also on the how to Avoid These Airport Rip-Offs!

Tags: , ,

Monday, June 09, 2008

Politics and GreenWash

I've always been interested by ecology, tryign to do my bit -like leaving a camping/picinic site cleaner than when I arrived. But my green attitude is based on common sense, not on any form of green religion inspired by city-luddites, the kind of people who were trotskyst before, green priests now and impose on others their attitude of green moral superiority.

For instance, at a time where we had agricultural surpluses subsidised by the EU, it only made sense to me that we should do biofuels. The current debate now about sustanability of biofuels comes from a herd movement towards biofuels when the infrastructure is not there.

Then the polititians came in and suddenly started to talk green. The only issue is that for politicians, it seems that Green = More Taxes. And we only see tax, tax, tax -but still no rail infrastructures
or maybe the're taxing the wrong stuff: Focussing on CO2: good for bears, bad for humans? Methane for instance stays in the atmosphere longuer than CO2: should we fit a meter at the back of each cow, or become vegeterians? (seems vegan is not a good idea...)

In my mind, it's not only taxes but there are many other ways of being greenner: microgeneration is one. The Guardian had a great full page article on how power from the people could cut CO2 emissions - with government help (shame the online version doesn't have the graphs).

But it seems the government is busy making broken promises and trying to substanciate the fact that Heathrow, thanks to its "Low Emission Zone" will be clean. In passing, we have to thank the EU for imposing stricter anti-pollution norms... (and NB: no, curbing LHR's growth won't harm the capital because it's only one of the FIVE London airports).

This is why I've become highly suspicious of Green Politicians: to me they will provoke a backlash and what they decide isn't even good for the environment.

PS: but kudos to Westminster to allow cyclists use one way streets riding counterflow. This is commen sense, doesn't cost anything and works (just go to The Hague if you don't belive me).

Monday, June 02, 2008

Tax, tax, tax -but still no rail infrastructures

The government keeps on taxing automobilists but fails to invest in public transportation:

Read in
BBC NEWS | England | London | New station's opening postponed: "The station will be the first new suburban station built in south London since the Second World War, according to Merton Council."

What a disgrace! Rail fares up, taxes on petrol up, local council tax up and interest rates up. The Richmond commuters feel the pinch on the wallet more than ever recently.

In the meantime, kerosene is still not taxed and now Boris bailed off the massive demonstration against Heathrow -this doesn't detract the Beeb to pedal the BAA spin comparing Heathrow to other cites, conveniently forgetting that London has no less than FIVE international airports.

All that could have been avoided if instead of perpetuating a 1950ies planning error the government had planned to build a new airport in the estuary as it has often been suggested -and close other airports such as Gatwick, City or Heathrow like it has been done in Berlin and other European cities.

It seems that the government is very short sighted indeed when it comes to transportation.... It maybe why we still don't have a footbridge in North Sheen?