Tag Archives: sydney

Product review updates: Shoeboxed & GoGet

I had some success in 2012 at subscribing to things that made my life a bit easier to organise, so, a couple of updated reviews.

Shoeboxed (original review)

What: a service where you package up a bundle of papers to be scanned, and they scan them, do some basic data entry (vendor, date, total amount, total GST) and store them on their website for you.

Current impressions: it’s still a pretty good fit for our needs: whenever a piece of paper enters our house that we have any belief we may need to access for paperwork purposes, we ship it off to them for scanning, data entry and shredding. The big test was doing our 2011/2012 taxes, and it was great to just enter a search term and have the document we needed show up among the top hits. We’ll keep using it for the foreseeable future. We don’t even really need the numerical amounts entered, since we don’t do personal bookkeeping at anything like that level.

I’ve also started forwarding them PDF receipts I get in the mail, and those work well: the PDF is pulled out and added to the data entry queue the vast bulk of the time. They’re much less good with HTML/text email receipts; it’s a harder problem though.

The major downside that has emerged is the length of time the processing takes, at least on the entry-level plan that we are on. It takes about two weeks from popping the envelope into the mail to the scans being available, and the delay is the scanning itself, not the data entry, so we can’t even access the raw images during this period. (There’s two ways to tell: one is that data entry for documents we upload in electronic form is usually complete within hours, the other is that the scans eventually show up in our “uploaded documents” queue waiting for their own data entry, and that happens about 24 hours before we get the “envelope processing now complete!” email.)

This is slower than the pricing plan states. It is mostly annoying for my business receipts: I do do double-entry bookkeeping for those, and in order to stay on top of things I like to do bank reconciliations sooner than 2 to 3 weeks after spending the money. I expect though that most businesses would subscribe to one of the higher volume plans (ours is 50 scans a month) which also have faster turnaround times.

GoGet car sharing (original review)

This has been a great replacement for car ownership, for us. Neither of us commutes by car (it would be a thoroughly silly way to pay for a regular commute), and we don’t even use cars every single weekend. But we do travel a lot to places where it is either essential or nice to have a car for the weekend, and make shorter trips to places that are a pain to wrangle a young child, associated supplies, and ourselves to on public transport (eg, Sydney’s beaches).

It’s also nice to have access to the vans. I’ve only done amateur furniture removal once this way, but they’re nice and roomy (we got two couches and a double mattress into one trip) without being as difficult to drive as the trucks one gets from rental companies. Also potentially much cheaper for small things, to be hiring by the hour!

For whatever reason, the contention for them has not been as bad since around about April. We can almost always get our first or second choice of car with as little as an hours’ notice. This is excepting the local iMax (8-seater) which you have to book up to 6 weeks in advance, but we very rarely need an 8-seater, luckily. We also regularly are later than we planned to be, and only once have I had to hurry back because someone else had booked the car for the next hour: every single other time we’ve been able to extend the booking into the free next hour. Several more cars have been added to the neighbourhood since around then.

We’re getting used to the child car-seat issue. It helps a lot that one of the nearby cars now has a car seat in it. We still often have to fit or re-fit the seat; I now believe the commonly cited statistic that around about 70% of self-fittings are incorrect. Ours definitely aren’t as tight as a professional fit sadly, but at least unlike everyone else we don’t have the back of the child’s belts wrapped around the adult belt that holds the seat itself. However, fitting a seat is a lot less onerous than carrying a seat to the car (while persuading a toddler to walk with us) and then fitting it! It will be good to have him in a booster though.

It’s not especially cheap: our monthly spend is somewhere between $200 and $500 (the high end in months like December and January, with multiple visits to different family in different cities). And we’re definitely using cars more often than we would if we had to sort out an entire car hire from scratch from a daily company every single time.

If there was one feature I really wish they’d add, it would be the ability to conditionally cancel a booking. The present situation is this: if you cancel with 48 hours before the start of the booking, it’s cancelled and you do not pay anything and the car is available for someone else to re-book. After that, you simply cannot cancel (not even any portion of your booking that is more than 48 hours in the future). What I’d like is the ability to do something like cancel at any time, thereby having the car available for booking by someone else, and, if there was less than 48 hours’ notice, incur the difference between my original hourly fee and any hourly fees they were able to get from any new bookings for that car. Then they have the same situation as now with regard to not losing my booking fee, but the neighbourhood is not locked out of the unused car for the duration of my abandoned booking. We felt this keenly when we had to walk away from our entire Easter weekend trip at the last minute due to acute illness.

We don’t intend to purchase a car again any time soon.

Product review: GoGet carsharing

We’ve been non-car owners again for a few weeks and members of GoGet car sharing for a month or so. These are my initial impressions.

This is against a background of our car being primarily used for occasional errands, and weekend excursions either locally (to the beach etc) or to regional cities. We also used to use our car for our son’s daily childcare run, but since we moved, his new childcare is in walking distance. I wouldn’t recommend GoGet to anyone who has a daily errand, this review is largely comparing it to having an occasional-use personal car.

Good things compared to car ownership:

  1. most areas where there is a car at all, there’s more than one. An out-of-action car does not mean “no car use at all until car repaired”
  2. they take care of on-road costs and insurance. Of course, this is bundled into subscriber fees, but it both flattens them over the year and works out cheaper for our usage. I think in theory they aim for a car for every 10 subscribers or so? We’re on the Frequent member plan, so I guess you could say our on-road costs are $360 a year.
  3. they take care of repairs. Again, bundled in, but flattened and so on.
  4. they take care of having a free parking spot by paying the council for guaranteed spots.
  5. (maybe arguably good) they turn the fleet over far more often than most people I know replace their cars.

Good things compared to car rental:

  1. the cars are just sitting there, in our case quite close by. You just get online, book, and walk up and take one. You only sign away your life in triplicate once. You don’t have to budget in a trip to the car rental place, a wait in a queue, a briefing on the terms and conditions and an inspection of the car.
  2. the insurance is reasonable rather than the typical car rental deal with a $3500+ excess unless you pay them 1/2 the rental cost again. With GoGet, if you can wear a $1500 excess it’s built in to the base pricing, or you can pay about $18 per day to bring it down to $300.
  3. you have to return the car with at least 1/4 of a tank of fuel, which is a lot easier to achieve than the full tank rental companies require.
  4. both the possibility of hourly bookings and the hour saving in pickup time make them way more useful for errands and so on.
  5. close to instantaneous bookings, subject to availability, whereas rental companies often struggle with sub-24-hours-notice requests

Bad things:

  1. Bookings start and finish on the hour. In pathological cases (say you need a car from 1245 to 1315) you pay for two or three hours of use in order to use the car for an hour or so.
  2. They’re for-profit, presumably this could be done cheaper not-for-profit. This is a bad thing-asterisk though: as I know very well, NFPs don’t magically appear out of thin air. Someone would still have to set up an entire car sharing company except with only a salary to motivate them.
  3. GoGet’s big thing is “we pay for fuel”. And they do pay in the sense of providing fuel cards, but they also have a 39c per kilometre usage charge for bookings that aren’t a day long booking. 40c per kilometre adds up fast!
    In theory the day booking rate (24 hours and 150km free for $68) kicks in as soon as your per-hour spend exceeds the day rate, for most cross-metro trips you’re probably going to nearly hit that.
  4. (potentially) GoGet does not accept any member who has a major traffic offence in the last 10 years of driving, and all applications for membership are at the discretion of their insurer. This contributes to the cheaper insurance compared to car rental, but it obviously disadvantages people who do have a traffic record or a history of at-fault accidents.
  5. not an enormous amount of choice wrt make and model, less than many larger rental centres. Really your choice boils down to little-medium-big in whichever make and model are nearby. (For us little == Toyota Yaris, medium == Hyundai i30s and i30 wagons, and big == Hyundai iMax.)
  6. some contention for them. Our experience is that with weekends, we really need to plan our trip the day before to have a good chance of a single car in Glebe being free over the entire block of time we need, and it’s probably worse in suburbs with less cars (Glebe has at least 10, and Pyrmont and Ultimo another 15 or so). Long weekends are worse because people take them away, and the iMaxes get booked really early most weekends.
  7. lack of flexibility with end time. That is, if we want to go somewhere and book a car accordingly but then someone invites us to dinner or whatever, we may not be able to stay because the car needs to be back. We haven’t had to try for last-minute use extensions yet, so we don’t know how often we will find that the car has 3 hours free just after our booking.
  8. if something goes wrong with your booking, they give you a $25 credit on your account, which unless the error is very minor is really not enough. To be fair, they do shift the booking to another car if they can, but on weekends this would be hard, see 6.
  9. fitting children’s car seats is a pain in the neck.
  10. their setup has an annoying feature whereby if it is the very first time that you in particular have used a given car in the fleet, the booking needs to take place about 15 minutes before your slot, so that the car can download your access data. Less important once you’ve used the car nearest to you for the first time.

In the medium term, this is likely to be a sufficiently good replacement for our occasional-use car.

Childcare

I just got a call from a childcare centre who has had my son’s name down for nineteen months. I’m not even sure if they were offering him a place, most likely they are just culling their waiting list in preparation for the 2012 enrolment season. Nineteen months long waiting lists, on the very edge of the metropolis.

I’m sure there’s plenty of info out there already about the economic inefficiencies generated by private childcare in countries like Australia and the US where supply doesn’t meet demand and there’s little government intervention in the market. One of the most noticeable for us is geographic lock-in. If it takes a year or more to get our son care at a new location, we can’t move, until, oddly enough, all of our children are school age and thus likely to be badly disrupted academically and socially by a move. The next most obvious is all the mother-work in this. Applying to 20 centres (… many of which ask for a $20 waiting list fee). Ringing them all once a month or more just to keep a tick next to our name as “really wants a place”. (It likely doesn’t advance you up the list, what with all the other mothers ringing monthly too, and they certainly don’t give us any actual news until a place actually appears.)

I should put in a little bit of background for people from countries with at least some government provided childcare. Childcare in Australia for children 8 weeks to 5 years is provided by for-profit and non-profit suppliers in a private market. Waiting lists for first born children in Sydney (younger siblings of an enrolled child often receive some preferential treatment) who aren’t in certain disadvantaged and at-risk groups are somewhere in the realm of nine to twenty four months. (Employers are supposed to keep permanent jobs open to a returning mother for a year.) Costs are in the realm of $70 to $110 dollars per day for infants (median maybe $90?) and $60 to $100 per day for children over age two. There are government subsidies on a sliding scale that for some families might halve this cost.

The alternatives are local government certified “family carers” caring in their own homes, who have similar waiting lists, nannies at around $200 per day, or family. I don’t see a lot of solutions aside from nationalisation: the private market obviously sees no need even for centralised waiting lists and for whatever reason it certainly doesn’t see the need to create enough places to meet demand. All I have is a couple of lessons:

#1 you do not put your child’s name down at birth you put it down when you are pregnant, if they let you, and if they don’t, take the forms to the hospital with you and post them from there within hours of your child’s birth. (Sydney hasn’t quite reached the stage that I am told New York City is at, of ringing them all to give them notice that you have stopped using contraception, and might therefore require their services at some point in the next two years.)

#2 most childcare places open up in January and February, with enrolments in October. It’s obvious why when you think about it: (southern) January is when the five year olds leave to start kindergarten, so it’s the time when by far the most vacancies are created. That doesn’t mean put the kid’s name down in October for a place the following January, it means putting them down as early as possible and then concentrating your phone calls in October.

This can be frustrating depending on your child’s month of birth. Born January or February? You may well have to keep them out for a full year. Born November or December? You may have to enrol them much younger than you would have been comfortable with if you are lucky enough to be offered a place (although only for a day a week, already enrolled children almost always get the pick of newly opened spots on other days).

For the record, my January-born first son got a place that July, in a centre that had recently re-opened after bankruptcy and was taking immediate enrolments. That same centre, whose youngest enrolment at the time was a child 9 weeks old, is a year later asking us to re-confirm 2012 enrolments four months ahead because of their enormous waiting list. They currently have no children born in 2011 enrolled, implying a waiting list of 9 months at the very least We’re ourselves presently awaiting results of the 2012 enrolments closer to the city, to see if we get to move closer to my husband’s work in the next 12 months, or if we’re staying out here for the foreseeable future.