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Women better at parking than men

Monday, January 30th, 2012

A new study suggests that women are better at parking cars than men. Video collected from cameras in car parks has been analysed and shows that women tend to be better at manoeuvring a vehicle, and are more likely to leave it in the centre of a parking bay, although they do take longer to park.

The analysis also shows that women are more adept at finding parking spaces and are better at lining up a vehicle before driving it into those spaces. Men were found to be better at driving a car forward into a bay, but are less prepared to spend time repositioning it once they have stopped.

The driving instructor in charge of the nationwide experiment, Neil Beeson, said he was surprised by the results. He explained that during his career he had always found that men were generally better learners. He added that his experiment seemed to suggest that women were better retainers of the information they had been given.

A team of researchers was employed by car park operators NCP to look at the behaviour of drivers in 2,500 car parks across the UK. The person’s parking was analysed and marked so that a parking coefficient could be produced for both sexes.

More than 75 per cent of women excelled at setting themselves up for getting into a parking space, compared to around half of the men observed. However, men were quicker at actually completing the parking manoeuvre.

Airlines investigate A380 wing cracks

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Airlines which operate Airbus A380s have been warned that a problem with cracks in a component in the wings needs to be addressed. Among the carriers which have been told to check their fleets by the European Aviation Safety Agency are Air France-KLM, Emirates and Singapore Airlines.

Emirates, which has the largest fleet of superjumbos on the planet, said it had already investigated the problem on one of its planes and was currently inspecting the wings of another. A spokesman said that there were no safety issues for the carrier and that schedules would not be disrupted.

EASA said it was concerned that if nothing was done to fix the cracked brackets there could be additional wear and tear over time which could turn into a more serious problem. Although the EASA has since told Qantas that it does not have to comply with last week’s directive, the airline’s engineers have said that they want to have the carrier’s fleet checked.

Paul Cousins, Australian Licensed Aircraft  Engineers Association president, explained that cracking in a wing component could cause pressure on other parts of the wing, and that this was a safety problem.

A spokesman for Qantas said that there was no threat to the operations of the superjumbos in its fleet. However, the carrier is continuing to work with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and with Airbus and will monitor the results of inspections by other carriers. If cracks are found, then airlines are being told to contact Airbus for repair supervision.

Search continues for survivors on capsized cruise ship

Monday, January 16th, 2012

The capsizing of a cruise ship on Friday may well have been the fault of the liner’s captain, according to the company which operates the vessel. Capt Francesco Schettino, who was in charge of the Costa Concordia which ran into rocks off the coast of the island of Giglio in Tuscany, has been held in custody because it is suspected that he is guilty of manslaughter.

Costa Crociere admitted that it appears that errors made by the commander resulted in the incident which has so far claimed five peoples’ lives. Capt Schettino has denied that he was at fault saying that the ship was in a part of the sea where there should have been no rocks and deep water, according to his nautical charts.

He has also disputed claims by prosecutors that he abandoned his ship before making sure that everybody else had managed to get off safely. The vessel is currently on its side a few metres away from Giglio’s shores.

The Costa Concordia ran aground in calm weather and sea conditions while it was carrying 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members. On Saturday, two French passengers were declared dead, as was one of the crew. On Sunday, a rescue team found two elderly men who had apparently become trapped in a submerged section of the ship. Their bodies are now being identified on the Italian mainland.

Recue workers are continuing to search the hundreds of other rooms and cabins that are now underwater as 15 people still remain missing.

Number of car registrations in UK down during 2011

Monday, January 9th, 2012

The number of car registrations in 2011 dropped to the lowest level in more than 10 years according to the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders. In December, the figure fell by 3.7 per cent compared to the same month a year earlier. However, the number of cars being produced rose significantly over the last six months.

Non-petrol vehicles including diesel cars also gained market share, with diesel taking a majority share of 50.6 per cent for the first time ever. The fall in registrations last year was emphasised by a rise in demand during 2010 when the car scrappage scheme was introduced by the government which provided subsidies for those choosing to purchase a new vehicle.

According to British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association chief executive John Lewis the motoring industry in the UK faced challenging times in 2011. He said that business fleets were responsible for buying around 60 per cent of all the new cars produced, and that the situation is likely to remain tough during 2012.

Smaller cars have done better than larger vehicles. The most popular model was the Ford Fiesta, with the Volkswagen Golf coming top in the diesel sector. Cars are also now more fuel efficient than they have ever been, with a gallon lasting an average of 52 miles.

New technology and regulatory requirements also mean that carbon emissions have fallen by 4.2 per cent compared to 2010.

Commuters clobbered by train fare increase

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Workers travelling back to their jobs tomorrow will be faced with a rise in the price of their tickets as the government pushes fares up by an average of six per cent. The hike has been condemned by consumer groups. Maria Eagle, shadow transport secretary, said train companies were only interested in turning a profit, not improving the services they are providing.

She added that the surprise is not likely to be very welcome and that the rise comes as many families continue to battle with the high cost of living. Theresa Villiers, the rail minister, said the price rise had already been limited to help passengers. She pointed out that the government was still trying to sort out Labour’s deficit.

The Association of Train Operating Companies has also defended the increase in costs being placed on travellers by saying that the revenue will be used to dramatically improve services. However, Passenger Focus has slammed the hike, pointing out that on some routes the cost of a season ticket has gone up by 11 per cent.

Anthony Smith, the watchdog’s chief executive, said that it was unfair for commuters to continue to foot the bill for a fractured industry. Mr Smith also condemned a rise in parking fees, but was complimentary about some operator’s scheme to allow travellers to spread the cost of annual tickets.

Campaign for Better Transport has also slammed the fare rise and called upon travellers to make their displeasure known to the Treasury on Tuesday by calling in, texting or tweeting.

Reduced Boxing Day train services hit travellers and retailers

Monday, December 26th, 2011

A strike by London Underground drivers, and a countrywide reduction in the number of train services, has meant travel problems for many who planned to travel over Boxing Day. LU tried last week to have the decision by the Aslef union to call its members out on strike blocked in the High Court. However, the judge said that the move was legal and permitted it to go ahead.

Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, said the dispute was over the rights of workers to take quality time off during the Christmas period. The union is demanding that those who do come into work on Boxing Day should be awarded triple pay, and a day off in lieu.

Chief operating officer for London Underground, Howard Collins, said that everything was being done to reduce the number of workers needed on the bank holiday. He has accused Aslef of ignoring the union agreements which are already in place governing levels of pay and work.

According to Colin Stanbridge of the London Chamber of Commerce, Aslef has been attempting to hold retailers to ransom at a time when a fragile economy is having to battle against weak consumer confidence and high unemployment.

Labour has slammed the coalition for failing to keep the trains running over Boxing Day. However, the Department for Transport claims that the number of services being run is comparable to recent Boxing Days, and has hit back at Labour saying that the party had failed to condemn the industrial action on the Tube.

Christmas holidays get underway

Monday, December 19th, 2011

An estimated 4.25 million travellers are expected to go abroad for the festive period as the annual getaway begins. In addition to this, the AA has said around 18 million drivers will take to the roads over the period. A joint survey conducted by the motoring organisation and Populus shows that 68 per cent of members are planning to enjoy Christmas at home. The most likely to travel elsewhere are those living in London (60 per cent) and the most likely to stay put are those living in the north-east (78 Per cent).

The AA has warned motorists to be especially careful on the roads even though the weather is not expected to be a severe as last winter. It said that conditions were still expected to be unpredictable and advised drivers to check the weather forecast and traffic reports before setting out from home.

Although there will be the usual, seasonal railway maintenance work, the train companies claim that there will be less disruption to passengers this year. It is predicted that the number of replacement bus services will be around half compared to the same period in 2010.

A strike by workers on the London Underground set to take place for 24 hours on Boxing Day is likely to cause some disruption in the capital. It is also not good news for retailers who will be hoping to tempt customers back to the London high streets at the start of the sales.

Heathrow Airport is also expecting to be busy as passengers use the hub to fly off holiday over Christmas and the New Year.

Branson looks at opening bank branches in stations

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson has confirmed that he will be looking closely at a scheme to open branches of Virgin Money at railway stations between London and Scotland. The entrepreneur is currently attempting to retain the franchise for Virgin Trains on the route up the west coast. Other firms also keen to win the contract include NV Nederlandse Spoorwgan, the Ditch operator, and SNCF of France.

FirstGroup Plc has also said it intends to bid for the franchise. Sir Richard has said that the government contract should not automatically go to the highest bidder. In 2007, Virgin Trains lost out to a higher bid made by National Express on the east coast. However, not two years later the company was forced to give up the lease because it was unable to fulfil financial agreements laid out in the contract.

Sir Richard said that national companies rarely delivered the best customer service, in his opinion. He added that if Virgin is allowed to continue on the west coast, passengers can expect to see some radical changes.

If the contract is not renewed, then Sir Richard has hinted that Virgin could walk away from the railway business in the UK altogether. Although he did not expand on his comment, he said that Virgin had already been approached about developing networks in the US and in Australia.

Virgin has just agreed to buy Northern Rock for £747 million. It is estimated that the deal will expand Virgin Money’s customer base by around one million people.

Airlines accused of hiking surcharges for paying by plastic

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Consumer watchdog Which? Has published a report in which it claims that controversial charges made by airlines when a customer purchases a ticket using a credit or debit card have skyrocketed over the last seven years by as much as 1,400 per cent. Which? Has asked the Office of Fair Trading to immediately look into the matter and do away with the unfair fees.

The inquiry, which began in June this year after the watchdog issued a supercomplaint is currently ongoing. Which? Says that action needs to be taken immediately as customers are losing what amounts to millions of pounds.

The study shows that in 2004, the most a customer was paying in plastic surcharges was £4. This charge was being made by BMI and easyJet. In the same year, Ryanair was charging £3.50 on a return trip if booked on a credit card and 80 pence for those choosing the debit option. Travellers booking with easyJet today are being charged £8 for a return trip, plus 2.5 per cent for using a credit card.

Passengers using debit and credit cards with Ryanair are now being charged £12 for a round trip. According to Which? Processing a credit card should cost no more than two per cent, and processing a debit card transaction costs around 20 pence.

Consumer Focus director of financial services, Sarah Brooks, said there was no reason why customers were being charged such high surcharges, and pointed out that the money was being used to increase airline profits.

Banks agree to increase Thomas Cook financing

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Thomas Cook has said it will be announcing its full year financial results in December, after managing to secure a £200 million loan from the banks. The firm said it was not going to release any financial details while negotiations were ongoing. The latest loan replaces the £100 million deal the travel operator announced in October.

Last week, shares lost 75per cent of their value on the news that the company was seeking further financing. Sales have been hit this year by factors such as the political problems in North Africa and the Middle East, the high price of fuel and natural disasters such as the recent flooding in Thailand.

Sam Weihagen, the group’s chief executive, said he was relieved that the banks had made a speedy decision over the increased borrowings. Lenders include HSBC, Barclays, RBS and UniCredit. In September, Thomas Cook’s loans stood at almost £900 million. The latest financing will take that to more than £1 billion.

Mr Weihagen was keen to say that the firm had not breached any of the rules of the loans it has already taken out. He added that the money would be used to strengthen the balance sheet.

Although the company has announced the closure of 200 shops on the high street as part of a restructuring plan, Mr Weihagen said the firm intended to continue operating outlets because customers still like to book holidays in a shop with a travel agent. He explained that many people felt more confident doing it this way, rather than over the net.