Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Driving the "improved" M4

On the occasion of the return of road tolls to Sydney's M4 motorway, here's a video showing a journey along the "upgraded" section from Parramatta to Homebush (and onwards to Concord) and back, on a random weekday the week before the reintroduction of the tolls.

A couple of thoughts:

Before the "upgrade", with frequent lane merges, such as 4 lanes being reduced to 3 at the Church St, Parramatta exit, then 3 reduced to 2 at the James Ruse Dr exit (eastbound), the speed limit was 90 kph. Now with 4 lanes in each direction for most of the "upgraded" section, and therefore less potentially dangerous spots, the max speed limit has been lowered to 80 kph. So while the elimination of a few bottlenecks may reduce travel time in peak out traffic to some extent; paying the exorbitant toll on, say, a lazy Sunday afternoon, will not save you any time, regardless of what the WestConnex crooks and their NSW government accomplices keep telling us – quite the contrary.

Furthermore, that 80 kph limit is exactly the same that applied during the construction phase of the upgrade. We must therefore conclude that 4 wide, straight, unobstructed lanes are no safer than 2 narrow, often winding, lanes in a roadworks zone with its turning trucks and all the other hazards that come with, well, roadworks.

That said, I'm not all that sure the "upgrade" improves traffic flow all that much anyway. Even in light traffic (weekday around 3 pm), the actual speed frequently drops below even the low speed limit of 80 kph. Below is the speed chart from my westbound journey (includes section from Concord to Homebush, which at the time still was a roadworks zone).

Then, there's the blatant lie of what the "upgrade" actually includes. According to WestConnex, the M4 Widening project delivers

"Widening the existing M4 Motorway from Parramatta to Homebush from three to four lanes in each direction"

To, me, and presumably to many other, apparently misinformed, readers, this implies 4 lanes all the way. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this isn't so. At the Silverwater Rd exit, lane 1 (the leftmost lane) becomes the exit lane, leaving the actual freeway reduced to 3 lanes. Granted, the 4th lane returns after the exit, in the form of the non-merging on ramp from Silverwater road; but it only takes common sense to realize that any reduction of lanes, no matter for how short a distance, will always cause congestion in heavy traffic. After all, the elimination of exactly those lkinds of bottlenecks was supposed to be the point of this expensive project.

To sum up; As of August 15, 2017, you get to pay AUD 4.56 each way (with future regular increases already legislated), to drive, even in perfect condition an light traffic, slower than before the "upgrade", on a road that doesn't actually deliver the key promise of the project ("4 lanes each way from Parra to Homebush").

After this experience, some questions remain:
- Is the NSW Government merely incompetent, or outright corrupt?
- Does the NSW Government have employees that are specifically tasked with finding ways to stuff up Government projects?
- Should the company building delivering the M4 "upgrade" (and charging motorists exorbitant tolls for it), Sydney Motorway Corporation, be classified as a criminal organization?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

How to renew your NSW drivers license in 4 short weeks

How to renew your standard NSW drivers lincense in 8 easy steps over the course of only 4 weeks, with only 4 trips to Service NSW:

Before we start, be reminded that in early 2016 (I think), the RMS (formerly RTA) centralized the production photo id cards such as drivers licenses. This is a “more efficient way to do business” and allows us customers to “complete our transaction faster”. So keep in mind that the process outlined below is actually an improvement compared to the olden days when the friendly customer service person would just print your license and hand it to you on the spot.

Fail to renew your license online, because no email address is linked to your account, and adding an email address cannot be done online.

Attend a Service NSW branch of your choice, for instance Parramatta. When asked, no, instructed, by the bossy receptionist to renew your license online, be quick to point out that you've tried and failed, otherwise she will shove you out the door before you get a word in edgewise.

At this point, bossy receptionist transforms into helpful assistant and updates your account. She will not, however, conduct any further checks regarding your eligibility to renew online, instead reverting to bossy receptionist and once again rush you out the door.

Successfully start process to renew license online. Suppress urge to obliterate your computer when told by the web site that you're not eligible, because the system has determined that an eyesight test is necessary.

Print and complete paper form, return to Service NSW branch again, have renewal application processed, including eyesight test and new photo. Pay AUD 178.00 for the privilege, a modest increase of just over 13 % since the last renewal five years ago. Enjoy the 50 % discount for having a good driving record.

Because the RTA, sorry, RMS, sorry, Service NSW centralized the actual printing of licenses etc, receive a temporary license in the form of a convenient paper document (size DIN A5), which you will be required to carry when driving until your “proper” license arrives by mail (in “about 2 weeks’ time”).

After three weeks, return to Service NSW branch for the fourth time because your license hasn’t arrived yet. Complete another form, take another ticket, then by pure chance once again enjoy the friendly service of Diane. Have your photo taken again, receive another temporary license, and learn that Diane is not only blessed with a cheerful personality, but also complete and utter indifference to customer service. Do not expect her to even attempt to find out why your license hasn’t been mailed, or take any steps to ensure this won’t happen again; Diane won’t even try to hide the fact that she doesn’t give a shit.

After another week, receive your license by mail. Do not take this for granted, there is no telling how many times you will hear Diane say “It just didn’t get mailed” before this last step actually happens.

So there you have it; couldn’t be any easier or more convenient, really. My only request to the RMS would be: Don’t make any more “improvements” to your services, please!