Cache removed and temporarily disabled. The council have just started installing new signage to advise of a new 20mph speed limit around here. 🎉
When they recently did the same in a nearby village, they removed a cache of this type as a (presumably accidental) side effect. I don’t know if this cache’s host is among those that’ll
be affected but I suspect it will so I’ve temporarily removed this one as a precaution and I’ll reinstate it after the works are complete.
A childhood move
Shortly after starting primary school my family and I moved from Aberdeen, Scotland to the North-West of England. At my young age, long car journeys – such as those we’d had to make
to view prospective new houses – always seemed interminably boring, but this one was unusually full of excitement and anticipation. The car was filled to the brim with everything we
needed most-imminently to start our new lives5, while the removals lorry followed a
full day behind us with everything less-essential6.
I’m sure that to my parents it was incredibly stressful, but for me it was the beginning of an amazing voyage into the unknown.
Live on Earth
Back in 1999 I bought tickets for myself and two friends for Craig Charles’ appearance in Aberystwyth as part of his Live on
Earth tour. My two friends shared a birthday at around the date of the show and had expressed an interest in visiting me, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity. Unfortunately
I hadn’t realised that at that very moment one of them was preparing to have their birthday party… 240 miles away in London. In the end all three of us (plus a fourth friend who
volunteered to be and overnight/early morning post-nightclub driver) attended both events back to back! A particular highlight came
at around 4am we returned from a London nightclub to the suburb where we’d left the car to discover it was boxed in by some inconsiderate parking: we were stuck! So we gathered some
strong-looking fellow partygoers… and carried the culprit’s car out of the way7. By
that point we decided to go one step further and get back at its owner by moving their car around the corner from where they’d parked it. I reflected on parts of this anecdote back in 2010.
At somewhere between 500 and 600 road miles each way, perhaps the single longest road journey I’ve ever made without an overnight break was to attend a
The wedding was of my friends Kit and Fi, and took place a long, long way up into Scotland.
At the time I (and a few other wedding guests) lived on the West coast of Wales. The journey options between the two might be characterised as follows:
the fastest option: a train, followed by a ludicrously expensive plane, followed by a taxi
the public transport option: about 16 hours of travel via a variety of circuitous train routes, but at least you get to sleep some of the way
drive along a hundred miles of picturesque narrow roads, then three hundred of boring motorways, then another hundred and fifty of picturesque narrow roads
Guess which approach this idiot went for?
Despite having just graduated, I was still living very-much on a student-grade budget. I wasn’t confident that we could afford both the travel
to and from the wedding and more than a single night’s accommodation at the other end.
But there were four of us who wanted to attend: me, my partner Claire, and our friends Bryn and Paul. Two of the four were qualified to drive and could be insured on Claire’s
car8. This provided an opportunity:
we’d make the entire 11-or-so-hour journey by car, with a pair of people sleeping in the back while the other pair drove or navigated!
It was long, and it was arduous, but we chatted and we sang and we saw a frankly ludicrous amount of the A9 trunk road and we made it to and from what was a wonderful wedding on our
shoestring budget. It’s almost a shame that the party was so good that the memories of the road trip itself pale, or else this might be a better anecdote! But altogether, entirely a
worthwhile, if crazy, exercise.
2 Also, wow: thanks to staying up late with my friend John drinking and mucking about with the baby grand piano in the lobby of the hotel we’re staying at, I might be first to publish a post for today’s Bloganuary!
3 Strangely, all three of the four journeys I’ve considered seem to involve Scotland.
Which I suppose shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, given its distance from many of the other places I’ve lived and of course its size (and sometimes-sparse road network).
4 Okay, probably not for the entire journey, but I’m certain it must’ve felt like it.
5 Our cargo included several cats who almost-immediately escaped from their cardboard
enclosures and vomited throughout the vehicle.
6 This included, for example, our beds: we spent our first night in our new house
camped together in sleeping bags on the floor of what would later become my bedroom, which only added to the sense of adventure in the whole enterprise.
7 It was, fortunately, only a light vehicle, plus our designated driver was at this point
so pumped-up on energy drinks he might have been able to lift it by himself!
8 It wasn’t a big car, and in hindsight cramming four people into it for such a
long journey might not have been the most-comfortable choice!
Lacking a basis for comparison, children accept their particular upbringing as normal and representative.
Kit was telling me about how his daughter considers it absolutely normal to live in a house full of
insectivorous plants1, and it got
me thinking about our kids, and then about myself:
I remember once overhearing our eldest, then at nursery, talking to her friend. Our kid had mentioned doing something with her “mummy, daddy, and Uncle Dan” and was incredulous that her friend didn’t have an Uncle Dan that they lived with! Isn’t having three parents…
just what a family looks like?
By the time she was at primary school, she’d learned that her family wasn’t the same shape as most other families, and she could code-switch with incredible ease. While picking her up
from school, I overheard her talking to a friend about a fair that was coming to town. She told the friend that she’d “ask her dad if she could go”, then turned to me and said
“Uncle Dan: can we go to the fair?”; when I replied in the affirmitive, she turned back and said “my dad says it’s okay”. By the age of 5 she was perfectly capable of
translating on-the-fly2 in order to
simultaneously carry out intelligble conversations with her family and with her friends. Magical.
When I started driving, and in particular my first few times on multi-lane
carriageways, something felt “off” and it took me a little while to work out what it was. It turns out that I’d internalised a particular part of the motorway journey experience from
years of riding in cars driven by my father, who was an unrepentant3
and perpetual breaker of speed limits.4
I’d come to associate motorway driving with overtaking others, but almost never being overtaken, but that wasn’t what I saw when I drove for myself.5
It took a little thinking before I realised the cause of this false picture of “what driving looks like”.
The thing is: you only ever notice the “this is normal” definitions that you’ve internalised… when they’re challenged!
It follows that there are things you learned from the quirks of your upbringing that you still think of as normal. There might even be things you’ll never un-learn. And you’ll
never know how many false-normals you still carry around with you, or whether you’ve ever found them all, exept to say that you probably haven’t yet.
It’s amazing and weird to think that there might be objective truths you’re perpetually unable to see as a restult of how, or where, or by whom you were brought up, or by what your
school or community was like, or by the things you’ve witnessed or experienced over your life. I guess that all we can all do is keep questioning everything, and work to help
the next generation see what’s unusual and uncommon in their own lives.
1 It’s a whole thing. If you know Kit, you’re probably completely unsurprised, but spare a
thought for the poor randoms who sometimes turn up and read my blog.
2 Fully billingual children who typically speak a different language at home than they do
at school do this too, and it’s even-more amazing to watch.
3 I can’t recall whether his license was confiscated on two or three separate ocassions,
in the end, but it was definitely more than one. Having a six month period where you and your siblings have to help collect the weekly shop from the supermarket by loading up your
bikes with shopping bags is a totally normal part of everybody’s upbringing, isn’t it?
4 Virtually all of my experience as a car passenger other than with my dad was in Wales,
where narrow windy roads mean that once you get stuck behind something, that’s how you’re going to be spending your day.
5 Unlike my father, I virtually never break the speed limit, to such an extent that when I
got a speeding ticket the other year (I’d gone from a 70 into a 50 zone and re-set the speed limiter accordingly, but didn’t bother to apply the brakes and just coasted down to the
new speed… when the police snapped their photo!), Ruth and JTA both independently reacted to the news with great skepticism.
I love my electric car, but sometimes – like when I need to transport five people and a week’s worth of their luggage 250 miles and need to get there before the kids’ bedtime! – I still
use our big ol’ diesel-burning beast. And it was while preparing for such a journey that I recently got to thinking about the mathematics of refuelling.
It’s rarely worth travelling out-of-your-way to get the best fuel
prices. But when you’re on a long road trip anyway and you’re likely to pass dozens of filling stations as a matter of course, you might as well think at least a
little about pulling over at the cheapest.
You could use one of the many online services to help with this, of course… but assuming you didn’t do this and you’re already on the road, is there a better strategy than just trusting
your gut and saying “that’s good value!” when you see a good price?
Estimate your outstanding range R: how much further can you go? Your car might be able to help you with this. Let’s say we’ve got 82 miles in the tank.
Estimate the average distance between filling stations on your route, D. You can do this as-you-go by counting them over a fixed distance and continue from
step #4 as you do so, and it’ll only really mess you up if there are very few. Maybe we’re on a big trunk road and there’s a filling station about every 5 miles.
Divide R by D to get F: the number of filling stations you expect to pass before you completely run out of fuel. Round down,
obviously, unless you’re happy to push your vehicle to the “next” one when it breaks down. In our example above, that gives us 16 filling stations we’ll probably see before we’re
Divide F by e to get T (use e = 2.72 if you’re having to do this in your head). Round down again, for the same reason as before.
This gives us T=5.
Drive past the next T filling stations and remember the lowest price you see. Don’t stop for fuel at any of these.
Keep driving, and stop at the first filling station where the fuel is the same price or cheaper than the cheapest you’ve seen so far.
This is a modified variant of the Secretary Problem because it’s possible for two filling stations to have the same price, and that’s reflected in the algorithm above by the
allowance for stopping for fuel at the same price as the best you saw during your sampling phase. It’s probably preferable to purchase sub-optimally than to run completely dry, right?
Of course, you’re still never guaranteed a good solution with this approach, but it maximises your odds. Your own risk-assessment might rank “not breaking down” over pure mathematical
efficiency, and that’s on you.
The battery indicator on the eV I’m renting wasn’t confident that I’d make it all the way back home without a top-up, so I stopped for
a 45 minute charge and a drink – the former for the car, the latter for me – at the services (pic attached of me at the chargers: this is
nowhere near the GZ!) and figured I’d try to find the cache while I was waiting.
Coords took me to an unlikely looking spot and the hint wasn’t much use, so I looked at the logs and noticed that a few people had reported
that they had found themselves on the “wrong side of the road”. That could be me, too, I thought… but the wrong way… in which direction? There were two roads alongside me.
I spotted a tall white thing that was different to the others and guessed that maybe that was what the hint referred to? When I got there, I even found a likely looking hiding
place, but clearly my brain is still in USA-caching mode (I was caching on California a couple of weeks ago) because the
hiding place I was looking at was the kind of “LPC” that just doesn’t happen over here. Damn.
So I stopped and tried to look nonchalant for a while, pacing around and looking for anything else that might fit the clue. Then I saw three things close together on the other-other
side of the road and it immediately clicked that I was looking for something like them. I crossed over, sat down on the convenient perch while I waited for some muggles to
pass, retrieved the cache and – at last – signed the log in what was basically the only remaining bit of space.
Had my GPSr sent me to the right place to begin with this adventure would have been much shorter, but I got there in the end… and still
with 13 minutes of charging time left before I could drive away. TFTC!
It was 1949 when highways officials started to look at traffic issues affecting Newtown.
A multi-million pound bypass that has been 70 years in the planning officially opened in Powys on Thursday.
One haulier said Newtown bypass will make a “big difference” due to
45-minute hold-ups in the town, while the local AM said it was a “momentous” day.
The Welsh Government said the road will ease congestion by about 40% in the town centre.
A public notice printed in 1949 shows a bypass was being considered by the former Montgomeryshire County Council.
The four-mile (6.4km) road runs to the south of the town with two lanes in one direction and one in the opposite direction, to provide overtaking points.
Never thought I’d see the day. Back when she used to work in Newtown, Claire would routinely be delayed on her
journey home by traffic passing through the town that could quite-justifiably have gone around it were it not for the lack of a decent trunk road, and she’d bemoan the continuing
absence of the long-promised bypass. That was like 15 years ago… I can’t imagine what it’s been like for the people who’ve lived in Newtown, waiting for the bypass to be built, for
their entire life.
In the time it’s taken to build this bypass, people who’ve been too young to drive have heard about it, grown up, had children of their own, and those people have had children
who are now old enough to drive. The mind boggles.
Hello, friendly insurance salesman I spoke to earlier today! I’ve been expecting you. Also: sorry.
I’ve been expecting you because you seemed so keen to finish your shift and search for me and, with my name, I’m pretty easy to find. I knew that you planned to search for me because
after I caused so much trouble for your computer systems then, well, I probably deserved it.
I’m sorry that what should have been a click-click-done exercise came down to a live chat session and then a phone call. I don’t mean to be more work for people.
But thank you for being friendly. And useful. And generally awesome. I expected a painful process, perhaps because that’s what I’d had from my last insurer. You, on the other hand (and
your Live Chat colleague who I spoke to beforehand) were fantastic. Somehow you were more-pleasant, more-competent, and represent better value than the insurer we’re coming
from, so thank you. And that’s the real reason that I hope you’ll follow through on the suggestion that you search for me by name: because you deserve a pat on the back.
There is a phenomenon of culture that I’m not convinced has a name. Living in the UK, the vast, vast majority of the media I consume is from the US. And nearly always has been. While
television was more localised, all my life the films and games (and indeed an awful lot of the TV) I’ve watched and played has not only come from America, but been set there, or
created by people whose perception of life is based there. And, while we may share a decent proportion of a common language, we really are very different countries and indeed
continents. The result of this being, the media I watch that comes from the US is in many senses alien, to the point where a film set in an American high school might as well be set
on a spaceship for all the familiarity it will have to my own lived experiences.
Which makes playing Forza Horizon 4 a really bloody weird thing. It’s… it’s British. Which is causing my
double-takes to do double-takes.
I’m not usually a fan of driving games, but this review of Forza Horizon 4 on Rock Paper Shotgun makes me want to give it a try. It sounds like the designers have worked
incredibly hard to make the game feel genuinely-British without falling back on tired old tropes.
As you may know, I’ve lately found an excuse to play with some new web technologies, and I’ve also taken the opportunity to try to gain a deeper
understanding of some less bleeding-edge technologies that I think have some interesting potential. And so it was that, while I was staffing the Three Rings stall at last week’s NCVO conference, I made use of the
time that the conference delegates were all off listening to a presentation to throw together a tech demo I call Steer!
As you can see from the GIF above, Steer! is a driving game. The track and your car are displayed in a web browser on a large screen,
for example a desktop or laptop computer, television, or tablet, and your mobile phone is used to steer the car by tilting it to swerve around a gradually-narrowing weaving road. It’s
pretty fun, but what really makes it interesting to me is the combination of moderately-new technologies I’ve woven together to make it possible, specifically:
The Device Orientation API, which enables a web application to detect the angle at which
you’re holding your mobile phone
Websockets as a mechanism to send that data in near-real-time from the phone to the browser, via a web server: for the
fastest, laziest possible development, I used Firebase for this, but I’m aware that I could probably get better performance by running a
local server on the LAN shared by both devices
The desktop browser does all of the real work: it takes the orientation of the device and uses that, and the car’s current speed, to determine how it’s position changes over the time
that’s elapsed since the screen was last refreshed: we’re aiming for 60 frames a second, of course, but we don’t want the car to travel slower when the game is played on a
slower computer, so we use requestAnimationFrame to get the fastest rate possible and calculate the time between renderings to work out how much of a change has
occurred this ‘tick’. We leave the car’s sprite close to the bottom of the screen at all times but change how much it rotates from side to side, and we use it’s rotated to decide how
much of its motion is lateral versus the amount that’s “along the track”. The latter value determines how much track we move down the screen “behind” it.
The track is generated very simply by the addition of three sine waves of different offset and frequency – a form of very basic procedural generation. Despite the predictability of mathematical curves, this results in a moderately organic-feeling road
because the player only sees a fraction of the resulting curve at any given time: the illustration below shows how these three curves combine to make the resulting road. The difficulty
is ramped up the further the player has travelled by increasing the amplitude of the resulting wave (i.e. making the curves gradually more-agressive) and by making the road itself
gradually narrower. The same mathematics are used to determine whether the car is mostly on the tarmac or mostly on the grass and adjust its maximum speed accordingly.
In order to help provide a visual sense of the player’s speed, I added dashed lines down the road (dividing it into three lanes to begin with and two later on) which zip past the car
and provide a sense of acceleration, deceleration, overall speed, and the impact of turning ‘sideways’ (which of course reduces the forward momentum to nothing).
This isn’t meant to be a finished game: it’s an experimental prototype to help explore some technologies that I’d not had time to look seriously at before now. However, you’re welcome
to take a copy – it’s all open source – and adapt or expand it. Particular ways in which it’d be fun to improve it might include:
Allowing the player more control, e.g. over their accelerator and brakes
Adding hazards (trees, lamp posts, and others cars) which must be avoided
Adding bonuses like speed boosts
Making it challenging, e.g. giving time limits to get through checkpoints
Day and night cycles (with headlights!)
Multiplayer capability, like a real race?
Smarter handling of multiple simultaneous users: right now they’d share control of the car (which is the major reason I haven’t given you a live online version to play
with and you have to download it yourself!), but it’d be better if they could “queue” until it was their turn, or else each play in their own split-screen view or something
Improving the graphics with textures
Increasing the entropy of the curves used to generate the road, and perhaps adding pre-scripted scenery or points of interest on a mathematically-different procedural generation
Switching to a local LAN websocket server, allowing better performance than the dog-leg via Firebase
Greater compatibility: I haven’t tried it on an iPhone, but I gather than iOS devices report their orientation differently from Android ones… and I’ve done nothing to try to make
Steer! handle more-unusual screen sizes and shapes
Anything else? (Don’t expect me to have time to enhance it, though: but if you do so, I’d love to hear about it!)
Walter Arnold of East Peckham, Kent, had the dubious honour of being the first person in Great Britain to be successfully charged with speeding on 28 January 1896. Travelling at
approximately 8mph/12.87kph, he had exceeded the 2mph/3.22kph speed limit for towns. Fined one shilling and costs, Arnold had been caught by a policeman who had given chase on a
This morning, I was cycling to work along my usual route, National Cycle Network Route 51, on its final leg down Banbury Road to Parks Road. Here, the cycle route shares its path with
a bus lane, and – on a warm, bright morning like this one, having a broad, flat lane is a great opportunity for a strong cyclist to make great time in a safe environment.
As I approached the bus stop, a spotted a car in the lane to my right, just ahead, slow down and turn on it’s indicator to turn left: it was heading for one of the driveways. But when
the car began its maneuver, a split second later, I realised that the driver had not seen me. Perhaps she’d not checked her mirrors before turning? Or perhaps she’d only glanced (and
seen no buses in the bus lane – just me and the second cyclist behind me)? Or perhaps she’d underestimated my speed, or dramatically overestimated her ability to get into the driveway
before I reached her? In any case, she turned out to be wrong. I hit my brakes as sharply as I safely could, but it wasn’t enough to stop me from ploughing right into the side of her
I’m not entirely sure what happened next. At the time, it felt like everything went into slow motion: a gentle flight through the air followed by a gradual landing on the other side,
and that I’d be able to recall every single moment. But, probably as a result of the blow to my head (which as I’ve discovered before can have
profound and confusing effects on memory), my memory of everything from a few seconds before the collision onwards is fuzzy and fragmented. But I spoke to the driver (a woman with dark
hair), to the cyclist behind me (who was wearing a white t-shirt), and to a man who came out of a nearby building (who spoke with an accent – these details are the only things I can
reliably remember about any of them), and based upon their descriptions – any my injuries – I’ve managed to piece together broadly what happened.
I hit the side of the car and flipped forward, throwing myself, some of the contents of my pannier bag, and my D-lock into the air. My handlebars knocked a dent into the bonnet of the
car, and the lock landed elsewhere on it, but I flew clear over the car and flipped around in the air. I’m not sure how I landed, but it was probably on my back, because I struck the
backs of my head, right shoulder, and elbow… but I must have rolled, because I also managed to scrape and graze the front of my legs.
I initially thought that I was fine (though I was clearly in shock), but I discovered about a quarter of an hour (or thereabouts: I’ve only been able to piece together a timeline in
hindsight) that I was in more pain than I’d first thought, was feeling intermittently dizzy, and was unable to remember the details of the accident or even what day of the week it was.
I asked for a taxi to be called for me and rode to the hospital, where they cleared me of anything seriously wrong (spinal injuries, serious concussion, broken bones, etc.) and sent me
home for a day of lying down and mainlining NSAIDs.
Now it’s the early evening. I’m still far from entirely “with it”: I feel like my brain’s been rebooted into safe mode – I seem to be incapable of decent multi-tasking (for example: I can have a conversation with you, or can
listen for my name being called by the doctor, but not both). I’ve got aching shoulders and arms and a bit of a limp. And I’ve been pretty much exhausted the whole day.
But here’s something: if I’m right about the angle I landed at, based on where I hurt the most, then it’s possible that my cycle helmet saved my life, today.
While JTA was off breaking parts of his body (and showing off his injuries on Reddit) with Ruth on the second part of their honeymoon, the week before last, I too took some time off work in order to have a bit of a holiday. I’d
originally hoped to get some cheap domestic skiing in, but the weather forecast showed that Scotland was going to consist of exactly two weather conditions, depending on where you were:
Snowy, but with 55mph winds.
This kind-of put a dampener on my plans to get some snowsports done, but I’d already taken the time off work so I re-arranged my plans into a “make it up as you go along” tour of the
highlands and lowlands of Scotland.
Highlights of my little tour included:
Renting an almost brand-new car, and – by the time I returned it – being responsible for more than half the miles on the odometer.
Visiting my family both on the way up and the way down – my dad injured his back while cycling around Italy this winter, and had originally hoped to join me in Scotland (perhaps to
get some more training in for his upcoming trek to the North
Pole). He couldn’t, as he was still recovering, but it was nice to drop by.
Being virtually the only guest at each of Glen Nevis and Glencoe youth hostels; getting an entire dormitory to myself at each.
Exhilarating but exhausting trek up Ben Nevis. The freezing
conditions, plus the incredible wind, meant that I spent the Tower Ridge stretch clinging to a steep ice slope against the push of a gale-force blizzard. Spectacular.
Ice climbing at Ice Factor. I’ve never done ice climbing before (y’know –
scaling a glacier with crampons and ice axes), and it was spectacular. Also, very tiring, especially after just coming down off Ben Nevis a couple of hours earlier. I was pleased that
not all of the rock climbing experience I’d had, over 15 years ago, was completely forgotten, and my stamina – if not my flexibility – was better than I expected.
Veggie haggis, tatties, neeps, and a dram of whisky on Burns Night, drying myself off by the open fire in a wonderful little pub.
A reasonably-gentle walk along the lochside at Fort
William, in order to allow my knee – which I banged swinging into a wall of ice – to recover a litle.
Visiting the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only
rotating boat lift. Did you know that the wheel is apparently so efficient that it costs only £10 a day in electricity to run it?
Live comedy and music in Edinburgh. Also, meeting fabulous strangers and hanging out with them drinking whisky and singing along to bawdy Scottish folk songs until past midnight.
Visiting the Wallace Monument and learning all of
the bits of 13th Century Scottish history that they don’t teach you in Braveheart.
It’s far cooler, yet much much bloodier, than you’d be made to believe.
Geocache-maintenance expedition with Kit, along with the opportunity to dress up in invisibility jackets and hang about near roundabouts and road signs.
Chinese buffet with Kit & Fi, two of my favourite people to go to a Chinese buffet with. Surprisingly impressive
selection of veggie-friendly foods, which is
something I look for, these days.
All in all, a delightful little tour, particularly impressive considering that it was launched into with the minimum possible amount of planning.
There are two varieties of car sharing clubs. These are:
Ones like Zipcar, which are companies with a large fleet of vehicles, pre-vetting of customers, and
Ones like WhipCar, which act as portals to allow members of the public to borrow one another’s privately-owned cars.
I haven’t had the chance to try the latter variety yet, although there are a number in my area. The important things are the things that both types have in common, and that is
distinctfrom most traditional car rental companies:
They keep their fleets spread out in disparate locations, meaning that you don’t have to “go somewhere” to pick up a car.
They make heavy use of the Internet, mobile apps, and – in the case of the corporate varieties – remotely-managed engine computers and RFID technology, to give their members access
As a result of the above, they cater in particular to people who want to borrow a car occasionally, conveniently, but only perhaps for a few hours at a time.
For me, at least, it’s far cheaper than owning a car – I only make one journey a week, and sometimes not even that. It’s far more convenient for that journey, for me, than public
transport (which would involve travelling at awkward times and a longer journey duration). If I were using my own car, I’d have to park it in Oxford city centre on Mondays in
order to make my journey possible (which is as challenging as it is expensive). Paying by the half-hour makes it convenient for short hops, and the ability to book, pick up, and return
the car without staff intervention means that it doesn’t matter if it’s midnight or a bank holiday or anything: if I ever need access to a car or van in a hurry, there’s almost always
one available for me to just “swipe into”.
And it’s far simpler than a conventional car rental company… at least, once you’ve gone through the telephone set-up process: a three-way phone call between you, the DVLA, and the car
hire company. If I want a car, I pop up the website or pull out my phone, find a nearby one that’s free when I want it, and go drive.
The cars are all new and well-kept, and the pricing is reasonable: you get a daily mileage allowance (now 40 miles, which is pretty ideal for me, as my round trip journey is barely more
than that), and then pay a mileage rate thereafter (if you need to fuel up, there’s a fuel card in the car). Paying by the mile, rather than the litre, has the unfortunate side-effect
of failing to encourage eco-driving, but other than that it’s a sensible policy which allows you to accurately anticipate your costs.
It’s been great, so far. I’ve been doing it for a few months and I’ve only had one niggle: I was on my way to college, as usual, when Zipcar called me to let me know that the previous
person booking my car was running late. I’d never had this happen before: I’d never even been lined up back-to-back with another user before; it actually seems to be quite rare. In any
case, Zipcar found me another car, which I declined (it was on the wrong side of town, and by the time I’d cycled back to it and driven across to this side again, I might
as well have waited). In the end, the other user was fined, and I was given a discount in excess of the “missed” time, which I spent on a tin of biscuits to share with my classmates by
way of apology for turning up late and disrupting the lesson. I’ve had a few difficulties with their website, especially when they first started taking over Streetcar’s fleets, but
they’ve been pretty good about fixing them promptly.
So there we go: a nod of approval for Zipcar from me. So if you’re based in London (where there’s loads of them), Brighton, Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge, or – soon –
Maidstone, Guildford, or Edinburgh, and occasionally have need for an on-demand car, look into them. And if you sign up using this link or the shiny button below,
we’ll each get £25 of free driving credit. Bonus!
Update (2022): Many years later, ZipCar would come to start mis-charging me and then repeatedly fuck up my
requests for them to stop doing so and stop processing my personal information (they actually told me twice that they’d done the latter, and I needed to log into my account to produce
screenshots for them with which to demonstrate that they were lying to me). As a result, I can’t give them the same level of glowing recommendation as I used to.
Update (2023): Somehow, ZipCar are still fucking-up my personally-identifiable information, despite
repeatedly being told to delete it (and on several occasions promising that they would or had). I can no longer in good faith recommend them as a company. Please don’t use them.