Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chicks and sticks

This year marks the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee – the old girl has been at the helm of England for six decades, maintaining implacable reserve through turbulent social and political change.

And yet, she drives a stick. In this video, she’s seen on her way to the kennel in her trusty Range Rover, shifting gears. With her left hand, yet. You’d think after sixty years, she’d prefer to drive an automatic. But no, the Queen prefers a manual.

But what’s good enough for royalty isn’t good enough for the rest of us. Only about five per cent of cars sold in the U.S. have standard transmissions, and the death of the manual transmission has been predicted for years now. Is it really an endangered species? 

Using a manual can contribute to better fuel economy, if it’s used properly. In Europe, where fuel is only a little less expensive than pink diamonds, most cars have a manual transmission. Also, cars with a manual gearshift generally cost less, and are easier to repair. Those are the practical aspects.

Driving with a gearshift is more complicated – at first. That’s what usually scares people away. While it does require more concentration and focus, after a while it becomes second nature. Still, a driver can’t drive a stick and use a cellphone at the same time, since both hands have to be engaged or the car simply stalls.

That’s why this Sacramento tv station touted the stick as a great way to combat distracted driving. Although their study was hardly scientific, the news report (is that Ellen Degeneres’ girly sister?) showed that their Facebook page was positively buzzing with stick-friendly posts.

And the multi-tasking nature of driving stick means that women are in fact better suited to it. A UK study in 2005 showed that estrogen affects the brain’s frontal lobes, increasing mental flexibility and the ability to switch from one task to another. This, in turn, would indicate that women would be better with manual transmissions than men!

Still, articles touting the masculine nature of driving standard abound on the internet.

To that, we can only ask – where is the vid of Prince Philip driving stick?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Prius C - game changer?

It may be premature to call the 2012 Toyota Prius C the best thing since pre-sliced bagels, but it may just be The Little Car That Could.

For starters, priced at about $20,000.00, it’s the lowest-priced and first truly affordable gas-electric hybrid. Its official mileage in the city is 2.8L/100 K, or 53 mpg to those who still don’t get metric. Since the Honda Civic hybrid lawsuit in the U.S., we’re skittish on official mileage figures, but this seems promising.

Is Toyota the only car-maker who has figured out something that others are missing? There’s a whole generation of car buyers out there who are not exactly in love with the traditional internal combustion engine – they’re not romantically attached to muscle cars or overpowered Italian designer buggies. The charmingly named Generation Y cut their teeth on the three “R’s” – reduce, reuse, recycle. To a lot of them, the internal combustion engine is a planet killer.

For the first time in generations, rites of manhood do not include a driver’s license – but rather, an iPhone. According to a Deloitte LLP survey “the smartphone has replaced the car as the ultimate mobile device.” So Gen Y wants 1. an affordable car 2. that doesn’t pollute and 3. they can plug their phone into.

Enter the Prius C. The base model comes standard with a 3.5 inch information screen, Bluetooth, automatic climate control plus USB and iPod connectivity, features that you don’t usually find in a $20,000 car.

Not everyone is impressed with the Prius C. It’s been derisively referred to as a hybrid Yaris, underpowered and sluggish, and plasticky inside. Some kvetch that the base model doesn’t come with heated seats. Others complain that it doesn’t look enough like a Prius!

The fact is, the same Deloitte LLP study found that 57 percent of Gen Y prefer a hybrid-gasoline car. There are currently 80 million Gen Y in the U.S. – the biggest consumer group since the Baby Boomers. The Boomers fell in love with horsepower happy cars like Mustangs, Hummers and exotic rocketcars. If the auto industry wants to survive, they better start pandering to Gen Y – they’re going to be the game-changers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I drive like a tour bus driver

Boston is 60 per cent landfill, and its 50-acre green space, the Boston Common, was the first park in the United States. The hallowed ground of Fenway Park, its baseball stadium, is the oldest Major League baseball stadium still in use. And the term "hooker" originated in Boston, after a general who liked to make sure his soldiers were really looked after.

This and other fascinating facts about Boston are relayed on a daily basis by Ed, the Boston tour bus driver, while he is simultaneously driving and dodging Boston traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians as well as carrying on conversations with the passengers. Boston is not exactly the easiest town for driving, let alone driving a honking big bus, conducting a tour, chatting with passengers and occasionally filling out tour tickets.

There are 21 stops on this tour that traverse Boston’s famously tangled streets, where intersections have no right angles, and traffic lights operate with whimsy. It is a glorious city for walking, as the scenery is picturesque and peppered with quaint buildings. Walkers can take in the country’s first walking tour, the Freedom Trail, and discover 16 historical sites over two or three hours, covering about 150 years of American history. Of course, this is best done in the spring and not in February, when cold and snow can hamper your enjoyment of Americana.

But traffic could be worse. Before the aptly named “Big Dig”, which cost about $22 billion, there was an elevated central artery that was hastily constructed as a way to ease congestion. After all, when Boston was built in the 1700s, the roads were designed for livestock, not four-wheeled vehicles. In the 1960s, plans began for an underground expressway to be built under the elevated highway – while the highway was still in business. Traffic now moves over a bridge and through four underground lanes. It only took four decades.

But back to Ed. He stops the bus abruptly for a jaywalker, and shares his theories on pesky pedestrians. He doesn't think that Boston's one dollar fine for jaywalking is enough, and believes that instead of being ticketed, police should confiscate jaywalkers' shoes for at least an hour. While in police custody, the shoes would be coded – so that at the next offence, police would know to hang on to the shoes for TWO hours.

That’s almost as delicious as the clam chowder at Legal Seafoods.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Just in time for Valentine's Day

Starting this month, Cupid himself is livening up the commute on Boston’s T subway system. That’s right - if a sexy straphanger catches the eye of a lovelorn passenger, they can just snap a pic with their smartphone and post it to the BostonTcrush website. And maybe eventually connect with the object of their affection for future adventures.

Brought to Boston by the folks behind London’s TubeCrush and New York’s SubwayCrush, the pics are shared on the website complete with date, name of the route, and a snappy write-up.

Naturally this one was dreamed up by the Brits, who always seem to have the good ideas first. Once you start surfing the site, it’s hard to stop. We like this entry:
"Every inch of this guy is hot – look at him!  Tall, dark, and handsome is personified in its best form before our very eyes. From his preppy, fluffy hair down to his penny loafers, this guy is perfection."

Anyone can go in and rate the dreamboats with a thumbs up or thumbs down. It started when a bunch of friends were watching a British TV show where women rated men based on their looks. One of the women whipped out her smartphone with a pic of a hottie she’d spied on the London tube – and TubeCrush was born.

So far, only men are being targeted with Cupid’s smartphone, which is fine by us. If anyone wants to have their photo removed, they just need to ask. There are very strict rules on privacy included in the FAQ The next steps are to eventually post women’s photos and also develop a means for the photographers and the photographees to connect.

Folks can interact with the site using Twitter or Facebook -- which just goes to show there are all kinds of ways transit and social media can co-exist in a happy partnership.

This is just a marvelous way of making commuting a little more fun and upping the happy quotient for taking the subway. People might even want to take the subterranean way, regardless of how crowded and noisy it is. We just hope this concept doesn't fall into the hands of that devillish Mayor Ford, who might use it to push his own questionable subway agenda. But then - wouldn’t it be lovely if this came to Toronto? Can you imagine?