The modern commuter

Tips and tricks for the 125 million North Americans who spend an average of 100 hrs/year commuting to work

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David Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news for his Roads Report column since 2000. The stories are all true.

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Kickstand out the jams
No one gets excited about their morning commute. In fact, new research from Sweden finds that people who commute by car, train or bus suffer from more stress, exhaustion and poorer sleep quality than those who ride a bicycle.
Unfortunately biking just hasn’t caught on in North America the way it has in Europe and Asia, but engineers in Holland think they might have come up with the solution.
Introducing “Feats Per Minute,” a bicycle that features a turntable built into the rear wheel. Just slap an LP on the hubcap and it spins against a needle as you ride. Best of all, the sound comes out of an old-timey horn on the back of the bike that resembles a phonograph speaker.
Of course, the catch is that you have to pedal at a consistent pace for the record to play at the correct speed. Accelerate through a yellow light and suddenly the Rolling Stones start sounding more like the Bee Gees.


Keep it clean
The stress and exhaustion associated with commuting will do a number on your immune system, so it’s important to stay healthy.
A team of researchers from personal hygiene conglomerate Kimberly-Clark Corp. recently analyzed hundreds of public surfaces that commuters are likely to encounter to see which ones bred the worst bacteria and viruses.
It turns out that what’s really disgusting at a gas station aren’t the prices but the gas-pump handles. Hygienists found that they contained the largest traces of animal, vegetable, bacteria, yeast and mould cells of any analyzed surface.
Trailing close behind were parking meters and crosswalk buttons.
The study warned of surfaces that are frequently handled but never cleaned and recommended that commuters wash their hands before interacting with any co-workers they like.


Think different
With the cost of everything from gas to tolls going up, wouldn’t it be nice to skip those annoying licensing fees? Before his passing in October, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs figured out how.
At Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., offices, everyone knew that the silver Mercedes SL55 AMG in the parking lot with no license plates belonged to Jobs. What no one could figure out is how Jobs was able to get away without the plates.
Former Apple senior security officer Jon Callas recently revealed that Jobs simply found a legal loophole that anyone (with enough money) can take advantage of.
In California, any driver with a brand-new car has six months to acquire plates. Whether out of rebellion or just concern for his security, Jobs preferred not to be associated with a license-plate number, so he simply leased a new car every six months, exchanging each SL55 AMG for an identical new one.


Ticket of Biblical proportions
If you do have to commute with license plates, be sure to park in a legal spot. A ticket can send your elevated stress levels over the top.
A woman in Sicily learned this lesson the hard way after receiving a parking ticket three years ago and then failing to pay. When police went to reissue the ticket this fall, they accidentally backdated the interest to the year 208 rather than 2008.
A few days later the woman received a copy of the updated fine in the mail showing that she owed $44,500 on her 1,800-year-old ticket (no doubt originally issued to her chariot by the Roman Empire).
When she saw the amount due, the woman actually began to feel dizzy and had to be taken to a hospital. Police later corrected the error, and the woman’s husband paid the adjusted fine of just $144.

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