Friday, September 23, 2016

Scam? Forbury Retail Park parking and Suicidal Retailers

It's a fair cop. As I parked in the Forbury Retail Park and strolled outside to take some photos in the nearby gardens, I had to walk past a sign that said, in very small writing (underneath larger writing promising 'Maximum Stay 3 Hours'), "Walking off-site will result in a charge of £100".

I then returned to the park to McDonalds and bought my lunch. Strolling back to my car I saw the dreaded Penalty Charge Notice on the windscreen.

I've now paid this after researching the whole topic for a week, it's simply more hassle than I can take to go through the various rounds of appeals and court cases etc. I suspect most other people do the same.

I guess it's private land (the retailers lease the shop space) and the landowner can put whatever strict rules they want for the privilege of parking there. But it seems crazy and totally lacking in common sense.

The idea of stopping people parking there all day while they work in Reading is fair enough - that's what the maximum stay number is for. But the idea of letting people park there, run an errand in Reading centre and then return (say) an hour later, to also shop in Home Sense, Staples, Argos or whatever and generally spend a lot of money seems the right way forwards.

Last time I went to Staples I spent £400. And, on the same visit to the car park, bought £70 of bits from Home Sense.

I'm not sure I want to give this retail park my business to the same degree anymore. And, judging from the emptiness of the car park (I did wonder) it seems that a lot of others are voting with their feet, or at least wheels.

There is NO REASON WHATSOEVER why the car park can't have a conventional max stay system (via number plate cameras?) or even a pay and display system, refundable in the shops with a minimum purchase. This would be a 'win' for both consumers and retailers.

The current UKCPS system is more like 'Nobody wins'. There's precisely zero chance now that anyone would visit these shops unless they had a very specific need and an awareness that they couldn't venture from the car park without physically driving their car out.

For example, McDonalds is apparently considered a separate car park by the idiots at UKCPS, so if you park in the main Forbury Retail Park and then walk 30 metres to McDonalds, you're classed as 'Walking off-site' and the UKCPS people leap up on your car and apply the £100 fine.

The lasting effect of this for me is that I've resolved to drive into Reading as little as possible and use the bus. Which means that I'll only be shopping in the main town centre... and not spending my money in Forbury Retail Park.

UKCPS probably don't mind, they've still got a stream of unaware drivers to fine £100 a time. That's their main income. But THE RETAILERS SHOULD CARE. They're the ones who are suffering and they'll go out of business (cough Comet, a few years ago). They need to complain to the landlord to get the car park system changed.

Because the current one really isn't working. For anyone other than bean counters at UKCPS. And I've no desire to ever ben involved with that business ever again.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Review: Lumsing Bluetooth Car Kit with FM transmitter

Bluetooth car kits are all very well, but a lot of them involve either some DIY to your car's dashboard or the right sockets (even just 3.5mm aux in) on your car stereo.

Which is why I was interested in grabbing this Lumsing gadget which claims to effectively turn any car into a Bluetooth-capable media monster instantly and cheaply, thanks to the 'magic' of FM transmission.

Now, FM transmitters are in themselves not new, they've been around for years, but you normally have to plug these into your smartphone with a 3.5mm jack - the secret sauce here (other than being sleek, small and stylish) is that the audio connection to your smartphone for music, podcasts and call handling, is all done wirelessly, via Bluetooth.

The usual caveats apply in terms of finding a frequency that works well for you - in the UK, I usually swear by 88.4MHz, but a lot will depend on where you live. The power output from this Lumsing unit seems pretty good though and I rarely got hit by interference from nearby FM stations. One omission here is that there's no 'auto-scan-for-blank-frequency' function, something which you sometimes find in other transmitters.

The unit is small and light, and mounts onto a magnetic back, which you can stick (using the supplied pad) to any surface should you not have a magnetic surface in your car already. One nice touch is that the transmitter rotates on its base, so as to relieve strain on the power cable/antenna and also to let you tidy the cable away more easily.

In my car, the circular Lumsing transmitter matched the other circular controls perfectly, so it was natural to stick it onto the dashboard plastic, where it has been secure.

In terms of controls, you get frequency adjustment, track forwards and back, plus play/pause, with a tidy LCD display to confirm the frequency currently being transmitted at. The Bluetooth connection to my test smartphones was trivial and you connect just as with any other Bluetooth audio device, there's no pairing code needed.

Although this doesn't support the Apt-X Bluetooth codec, the standard A2DP profile was fine and our family has been enjoying trips with high quality music, streamed from iPhones and Windows Phones. And when it comes to taking a call, pressing the top right button answers and there's then built-in noise cancellation to keep the audio tidy.

The instruction manual talks about long pressing the top right button to launch Siri on the iPhone, which is fair enough but it does nothing for Android users, so this may be of limited use. Best to still use the controls on the phone itself for most people.

There's a dual port (1A/2A) 12V car adapter in the box, which is very welcome indeed. For most people, plugging the FM/Bluetooth gadget into the lower power USB port then gives you a high current port with which to charge your smartphone quickly. it's neat and... just works.

At £18 (currently) in the UK on Amazon, this is priced about right. Possibly not an outright bargain, but certainly not too expensive - in our car it replaced an old wired FM transmitter adapter and is half the size, weight, is far more elegant... and comes in cheaper as well. Love it!