Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello (Petrol)

Posted on 16th January 2008

Continuing the motoring theme, I recently discovered a newish site, PetrolPrices.com. It follows the comparison site idea, but for petrol (and other fuel types) at petrol stations and supermarkets, etc. across the UK. Although it hasn't been going for long, it does seem to have gained quite a bit of interest and is a worthy addition to your bookmarks.

The only annoying thing (for me persosnally) is that I had the idea to do this (as I'm sure several other did) several years ago when I first started developing websites :) However, I am surprised that no-one has developed this kind of site before, as it is a resource that has been wanted for a very long time. In my case I didn't develop my idea further, as I didn't know of a reliable way of getting at realtime data. Originally I was going to allow users to enter prices from their local filling station, but this is open to abuse, and considering that I wouldn't be able to verify the prices, would likely have been very unreliable. PetrolPrices.com have overcome this hurdle, thanks to Catalist. Although they existed back in 1998, my research never revealed them and I'm sure others had the same problem. With data for over 10,000 stations up and down the country they certainly have that data market sewn up.

I shall be using PetrolPrices.com from now on, but from initial searches it would seem that the price I'm paying currently is quite low. Although there are petrol stations that charge a lower price, the effort getting to/from them would probably negate a lot of the benefits of filling up at stations that are actually on my route to/from work. However, I see it being very useful when driving long distances, particularly when on holiday to find the cheapest and closest filling station.

File Under: cars / driving / website

Roadhouse Blues

Posted on 15th January 2008

Driving to work these days is becoming more and more treacherous. Today the rain was relentless, and as a consequence there was a lot of surface water. Driving over the Avon near Tewkesbury the river has flooded the fields, so that it appears both sides now have a massive lake. It also seems much more extensive than the flooding last year. However, this doesn't seem to warn drivers enough. Our drive took us almost to the first Cheltenham turn-off to hit the accident today. Just two cars, but they managed to block the outside lane while police cleared the carriageway and got them on to the hard shoulder.

Yesterday an accident just after the M42 joins the M5 caused a tailback along the the two motorways and even down the A38 dual carriageway that passes my house. Yesterday's accident took several hours to clear, and happened around 7am. As a consequence I was late into work, and likewise several hundred other motorists. That's two in two days. There have already been several others so far this year. A few years ago I remarked that in the first 10 days of driving to work, I encountered 7 accidents and twice the motorway was closed. I think the motorway only got closed once last year, but there were several accidents.

The journey I take is from Junction 4 of the M5, down passed Bromsgrove, Worcester, Malvern, Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and Gloucester, finally leaving the motorway at Junction 11a. My trip at both ends is just a few minutes, along dual carriageways, so the bulk of the journey can average 60-70 mph. It's a 45 mile trip and usually takes 40-45 minutes on a good day. On a bad day like yesterday it can take 2 hours.

There seem to be 3 factors that people are not getting.

Firstly, that the weather is to be respected. Driving in the rain, wind and snow or on wet or icy roads is not fun, especially in the dark.

Secondly, use the correct lane. This is especially true of road hogs who insist on sitting in the outer or middle lanes, when there is nothing on their inside. The two outer lanes are for overtaking only. Driving with the excuse that a mile or more ahead you will be overtaking another vehicle is not good enough. These people seem to believe they have every right to restrict traffic flow and bunch cars up, making the likelihood of an accident occurring much greater.

Thirdly, respect other road users. It's not unusual any more to have someone suddenly appear in my rearview mirror, decelerating from 100mph to 70mph, to a foot away from my bumper. I saw a van do it once for a major logistics company, to someone else, while driving in the rain. It annoyed me so much I actually called their "Am I A Good Driver?" hotline number and complained. Just because you can do more than 70mph, doesn't mean you have the legal right to do so, or insist everyone gets out of the way as soon as you appear. If they are overtaking another vehicle, then give them a chance to do so. Hassling them only makes the more resistant. It also means they aren't concentrating on the road properly, as they also have to concentrate on you and watch out for you hitting them when you don't stop in time.

Any one of these is a potential danger, a combination of two or all three is just asking for trouble.

Another annoyance for many people is articulated lorries. During rush hour they also cause excessive traffic build-up, which again increases the risk of accidents. On several occasions I've even seen articulated lorries drive in the outer lane of the M5 over a certain stretch where they seem to believe they have the right to use all lanes. Now that I take a colleague to work, if I spot this again, rest assured I will be getting him to take photos.

A while ago I made a suggestion that any vehicle weighing more than about 4 tons should be restricted from using any road (motorway, main road, country lane or side street) during the hours of 7am-9am and 4.30pm-6.30pm. It seems others had a similar thought as there was a government petition at one point. While I don't believe that lorries are necessarily the cause of all accidents, they do put pressure on some drivers to drive like they do. Taking heavy goods off the road might not be the complete answer, but it might help to make the roads during congested periods a little less stressful.

Obviously the the optimum solution would be for the government to properly invest in our public transport infrastructure, so that for me to get to work wouldn't take over 2 hours as it would currently do. Regular bus and train services, use of appropriate stations and decent rolling stock all need investment and improvements. But then that would also mean we wouldn't use our own transport, and would reduce the fuel consumption (reduced tax income), reduce car ownership (reduced license income) and reduce traffic congestion (reduced toll income), so I can see why the government might be reluctant to invest. However, with global warming and the rise in accidents, surely we should be thinking more about reducing our road usage. I'd rather live in a world with less pollution at the very least.

File Under: cars / driving / rant

Driving In My Car

Posted on 15th April 2007

Yesterday was "The Pride of Longbridge Rally". It started with a large gathering of cars at Hopwood Services, junction 2 of the M42, followed by a long drive around the old MG Rover / Austin Rover works before turning into Cofton Park. It must have been slightly disheartening to see the disappearance of such a large part of the works. I tried to find some old pictures of what the place used to be like, but it's been a bit difficult. None of them really capture enough of the site as it was, so you can see how much has gone.

Then I discovered this photo of the plant from 1978, and this one from roughly the same time. The first photo faces west, whereas the second photo faces east. The large building at the top of the first photo, is the same large building in the lower part of the second photo. The white (it was really grey) bridge (The Conveyor Bridge) over the road in the centre of the first picture was where the car frames would be transported to the assembly line. Thankfully as Google Maps are based on data from around 2000, this satellite photo was taken just before the demolition started and you can see the areas of the site quite well. However, this image helps to identify the areas that have actually gone.

Take a good look at those photos. The bridge has gone, everything from the large building to the west of the Bristol Road has been flattened [West Works], the corner piece between Bristol Road and north of Longbridge Lane has long been flattened (in the Google Map photo it was used a temporary car park), and looking at the first photo, everything north of the white building at the bottom of the photo, north all the way to Longbridge Lane has also gone [North Works]. Also the area to the south of Groveley Lane and to the east of Lowhill Lane [East Works] has gone.

DanDan and I took a wander around the works and recorded how it looks now. I just wish I'd thought to have taken a tour around the site before demolition had begun. As we live less than a mile away from the site, we have been included in the plans for the area's future. There is a site Future 4 Longbridge that has been detailing the plans and recording all the responses from residents. The now proposed plan looks to be quite an interesting prospect. Whatever happens it's going to be a major change to the area.

Taking a step back, as mentioned at the start, it was also "The Pride of Longbridge Rally". DanDan and I had a walk round some of the early arrivals at Cofton Park, as the classic cars and more recent ones all lined up to show off their part in the Longbridge Legacy. I personally love the old classics and have always held a liking for Minis, but the more recent Allegros, Metros and numbered cars have never held a candle in my opinion, so we didn't stick around to watch them line up. Apparently there was entertainment lined up from a live band, but judging from the soundcheck, we didn't miss much. I'm sure everyone there had a good day, and it is great for the area of Longbridge to remember the part it has played in the history of the Motor Industry.

File Under: austin / birmingham / cars / coftonpark / longbridge / rover

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