Category Archives: Transportation

Good Help Is Hard To Find

I enjoy meeting new people in casual environments. I don’t, however, enjoy meeting new people in a business setting when I am the customer. This is an area that I truly loath.

The rapport I have with the majority of my contacts is worth more than gold to me. I have written about the benefits of knowing my mechanic and jeweller before, and the same goes for knowing my barber, financial planner, and, until three years ago, my travel agent.

Three years ago my travel agent was transferred to a foreign branch. Since then I have struggled to find someone I can trust with my travel plans. The agent that was assigned my file promptly drew my wrath as she failed to book my requested tickets for 6 people. Her company lost out on about $8000 of business, and we were forced to pay a higher price at another company, as the early booking prices were no longer available.  

While my old travel agent understood my preferences and requirements for travelling, and always knocked off a few hundred bucks through “preferred customer” discounts, I can’t help but feel that I am merely dealing with commission based sales people now.

I met one the other day when I was trying to find out prices for July. I sat down prepared to give all information and then set her loose on the computer, but she starting tapping away as soon as I opened my mouth. “Well, at least I’ll hear several options,” I thought. Within one minute she piped up that she can book me on a flight, and the price is just shy of $2000.

That’s a ridiculously high price for such an advance ticket, and sure enough, it was Air Canada. I asked her to give me a quote for Korean Air flying through Inchon, which was apparently a very difficult question, as it took her 20 minute to search through the database, talk with her supervisor, and make a phone call.

Finally she gave me the quote I wanted to hear (about $1200), but said I couldn’t book the flight because it was too early. Hilarious.

With that kind of service, I’ll once again be searching for a new agent.

Do Canadians Understand Their Fuel Consumption?

I’ll start by saying that among the mix of personality traits that I have, one is exceptionally “type A.” That particular trait is a continued habit of collecting my personal economic data, and boiling it down to something that I can comprehend.

Having a number that is broken down and comprehensible is very important to me. I could look at receipts and see that we had, say, $2000 worth of expenses last month, but unless I break that down into categories, it is somewhat meaningless to me. Without categories, I would be lost as to where our money is going.

I feel the same lack of understanding when talking to family or friends from Canada who talk about their fuel consumption. They tell me numbers, yet I have no idea what those numbers mean in real terms.

I first became aware of this difference when I was talking to my father a couple of year ago. He asked me how my car was on gas and I told him I get about 15 km to the litre. He was surprised, saying that wasn’t very good. I was surprised that he would say that for such a fuel-efficient car (which was 10 years old, to boot!). We quickly realized that we were talking in different languages. My father’s brain had taken my kilometres per litre and input it into a Canadian calculation of litres per 100 km. To him, my 15km/litre sounded like 15 litres/100km.

Fair enough. Two countries, two ways of calculating fuel consumption. If it was that easy I wouldn’t have a problem. But my question is, can someone who thinks about litres per 100 km really understand their fuel usage?

To be precise, I average 15.1 km/litre from September to June (July and August is all over the board and depends on my A/C usage). Knowing that, I find it very easy to ball-park my cost for going from A to B. For example, I live 7.4 km from job 1, and 8.2 km from job 2.  A round trip to and from job 1 costs me pretty much one litre of gas; a round trip to and from job 2 costs me just over one litre. In my monetary terms, that means that for each job, I am paying roughly 120 yen ($1.50) for my transportation.

Reversing the calculation for the standard Canadian way (here is a good post on how to do it), I can see that I use 6.6 litres per 100 km of driving. But that number doesn’t really help me out when trying to figure out the cost of a trip to the downtown core 4 km away. Maybe it’s just getting used to the number and mental calculation, but for me, kilometres per litre is a more digestible and practical number.

The Know Your Mechanic Rule

Warren Buffet has said many times in Berkshire’s annual report “if you don’t know jewellery, know your jeweller.”

I can vouch for this as true; a friend of mine runs a jewellery store and he has given me amazing deals.

Most of us don’t buy jewellery on a regular basis, however. And some of us might even get away with not buying it at all. For most of us, though, I think the Buffet statement could read “if you don’t know cars, know your mechanic.”

I would love to learn more about automobiles. As it stands, I have a decent understanding of what problem I have, but have no idea of how to fix it. I have been fortunate in that I have been going to the same mechanic for the past 7 years. He runs a small garage from the side of his house, and there is no one I trust more with my car.

Yesterday my car started acting up a bit, so I took it in to the shop today. He worked on the car for about an hour, tweaked a part, and gave me an oil change (he also gave me a short lecture for driving too far without a change, to which I sheepishly acknowledged I was at fault for) and only charged me for the new oil he put in.

As far as the part goes, he said it’s a bit of an expensive part, so he tried to McGyver it a bit, and said to come back if I have any problems.

I cannot think of any other mechanic that would do his best to avoid having me pay more. I think a good number would say the part is shot, order a new one, and charge the labour and shipping.

This is not the first time this has happened, either. I knew I was having trouble with either a spark-plug, or the fuel-line some time ago so I brought it in. He not only fixed that problem, but pulled my muffler off to patch a hole that he could hear. I think he charged me about the amount of the welding rod that he used.

It means, of course, that I bring him a little gift every time to thank him for the last time. Usually a brand of senbei crackers he told me he likes.

No matter what, I surely get more value than I pay for.

If you don’t have a great mechanic, you may have to build some rapport for a few years, but once you have a mechanic you can trust, you know that you will never be suckered into buying lemons or blood diamonds.