MONEY Customer Service

The Insulting Names That Businesses Call You Behind Your Back

150225_EM_WhatBusinessesCallYou
Lasse Kristensen—Shutterstock

Ever wonder how casinos, car dealerships, restaurants, pay TV providers, and online marketers refer to customers in private? The answers aren't pretty.

You may think you are a living, breathing, thinking, three-dimensional human being. To online marketers, however, you might just be classified as “waste.” That’s one of the revelations in a new report from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Many online marketers use algorithmic tools which automatically cluster people into groups with names like ‘target’ and ‘waste,'” the researchers explain. Those viewed as “targets” based on their personal data and online history are deemed worthy of retailer discounts and deals. On the other hand, because the majority of bankruptcies come as a result of medical expenses, “it is possible anyone visiting medical websites may be grouped into the ‘waste’ category and denied favorable offers.”

It’s insulting enough that your worthiness as a person and potential customer is being judged by some computer algorithm. And yet the words chosen for these groups we’re lumped into make this sifting process more impersonal and insulting still.

The study got us thinking about all the other disdainful, mocking, or otherwise insulting ways that companies have been known to refer to the paying customers and clients that, you know, keep these businesses in business. Even as you essentially pay the bills for these operations, you might be thought of as little more than …

Muppets
In 2012, the very public resignation of Greg Smith from Goldman Sachs revealed that the firm’s executives sometimes referred to clients as “muppets.” Apparently, in the U.K. the slang term is applied to someone who is ignorant or clueless and easily manipulated. In certain circles, an investor might also be dubbed an ostrich, pig, or sheep depending on if he, respectively, buries his head in the sand no matter what’s happening in the market, is overly greedy, or has no strategy and does whatever someone else tells him.

Bunnies, Grapes, Squirrels
Behind the scene at car dealerships, customers who are bad negotiators and easy for salespeople to push around and talk into deals are sometimes known as “bunnies” or “grapes,” presumably because they’re just waiting to be pounced on or squeezed, respectively. A “squirrel,” on the other hand, is a hated species of customer who hops from salesperson to salesperson with no sense of loyalty or thought to who should get the commission.

Dogs, Fish, Bait, Whales
These are all terms used in the world of gambling and casinos, and they generally refer to players who are losing or are likely to lose—to the house, but also to the shark sitting across the table. A “whale,” of course, is a high roller who bets big, and who therefore will probably lose big money at one time or another. For that matter, in the restaurant industry, “whales” are super-wealthy customers with so much money they don’t blink when running up bills into the tens of thousands at overpriced eateries where, for example, a Bud Light costs $11.

Campers, Rednecks
Also in the sphere of restaurants, these are two kinds of customers that seriously annoy the employees and owners. A group of “campers” camps out at their table for hours, eliminating the opportunity for a new party to run up a tab, while a “redneck” is another term for a cheapstake or stiff who doesn’t tip—perhaps because they’re not city folk and aren’t familiar with tipping etiquette.

The N Word
Some waitstaff not only refer to their customers using racial epithets, but they’re also dumb enough to put these derogatory terms in print on diners’ receipts. Examples have popped up in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia, among other places. And yes, the incidents have resulted in lawsuits and people getting fired. On the flip side, some horrible restaurant customers have been known to leave insults (including the N word) instead of tips for their waiters.

Fat
Among the other popular, not particularly creative insults left on receipts is some variation of “fat”—“Fat Girls” and “Pink Fat Lady,” to name a couple specific examples.

The C Word
Yes, some angry Time Warner Cable customer service agent apparently went there, recently renaming a customer as “C*** Martinez” in a letter after she reported a problem with her service.

Assorted Expletives and Insults
The C word episode followed on the heels of multiple reports of agents at Comcast—Time Warner Cable’s equally hated pay TV competitor and would-be partner if the much-discussed merger ever takes place—renaming subscribers things like “A**hole,” “Whore,” “Dummy,” “Super B*tch,” and such. (Only whoever did the renaming at Comcast always used letters instead of asterisks.) There’s a good argument to be made that the absurd pricing and policies installed by pay TV providers are at the heart of why “customer service” agents so often hate subscribers, and why the feeling is mutual.

A Sad Person, a Hateful Mess
You’d think that New York Knicks owner James Dolan—a no-brainer to appear on a wide variety of Worst or Most Hated Owners in Sports in Sports roundups—would have developed a thick skin after years of criticism for astounding ineptness and mismanagement at the helm of one of sport’s most valuable franchises. But Dolan’s response to the recent criticism of one New Yorker who has been a fan of the team since 1952 shows otherwise.

“I am utterly embarrassed by your dealings with the Knicks,” the fan, Irving Bierman, wrote to Dolan, pleading with him to sell the team so that “fans can at least look forward to growing them in a positive direction.” Instead of taking the criticism constructively and thanking Bierman for watching the Knicks for 60+ years, Dolan responded via email by calling him “a sad person,” “a hateful mess,” “alcoholic maybe,” and likely “a negative force in everyone who comes in contact with you.” Dolan finished up the screed by telling Bierman to “start rooting for the Nets because the Knicks dont [sic] want you.”

While certainly extreme, Dolan’s message speaks to the disdain with which some sports owners and certain league executives seem to regard fans—who are supposed to root loyally and pay up for the product as a matter of blind faith, and never to question or criticize. For Dolan’s sake, let’s hope he never listens to sports talk radio. He probably wouldn’t like the ways that people refer to him.

MONEY Autos

New Ram ProMaster Puts Chrysler Muscle in a Fiat Eurotruck

This combination cargo vehicle and passenger van is a welcome hybrid of American power and European design.

In the narrow, congested city block where I live, traffic gets blocked every day by some boxy truck making a delivery. Horns honk, as do drivers, and general unpleasantness ensues. Life in the big city would be so much calmer if trucks were smaller, like they are in Europe, where the streets are even narrower and more congested.

That’s now happening. As car companies globalize their products, vehicles such as Ram’s new ProMaster City are making headway, joining the likes of Ford’s Transit, Chevy’s City Express and Nissan’s NV200. The ProMaster City is a Eurotruck through and through, because it’s a Fiat Doblò that’s made in Turkey and rebadged for the U.S. market. It comes in both a passenger and cargo version, and Chrysler has a customizing operation so you can trick out the cargo version to fit your business needs.

One reason Fiat bought Chrysler is that Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne realized that the two companies had offsetting strengths and weaknesses. Fiat does small really well; Chrysler is Detroit muscle all the way, and its big-ass Ram pickups are gobbling up market share.

In the ProMaster City, both companies’ strengths are brought to bear. When you build small cars and trucks as Fiat does, you think inside out — that is, using design not only to maximize interior space, but also to create visual space. Look out the ProMaster City’s windshield and you would think you are in a much bigger truck, a feeling that’s exaggerated by the short nose and narrow A pillars. At the same time, there are nooks in unexpected places — for instance, a shelf at the roofline so you don’t have to jam all kinds of stuff behind the sun visor.

Where’s the Chrysler in this thing? That’s under the hood. The ProMaster City is powered by one of Chrysler’s go-to engines, the 2.4 liter Tigershark, an inline four-cylinder number that puts out 178 h.p., tops in its class. The Tigershark also powers the Chrysler 200, the Jeep Renegade, and the Dodge Dart, and it’s attached to a sophisticated nine-speed automatic transmission. But even here there’s a touch of Fiat: The Tigershark uses the Italians’ MultiAir variable valve timing technology that helps to push the mileage to 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. And there’s more than ample power.

Where this corporate combination goes astray is in the dashboard, for some reason. The speedometer and information panels are not easy to see, the fog lamp is in the wrong place and the navigation system is a bit silly. The screen is iPhone-sized but with about a third of the resolution. You half expect to see Pac-Man start playing.

Still, the ride is comfortable, in part because of seating and in part because of the rear independent suspension. It’s surprisingly quiet and car-like at speeds below 60 miles per hour. It also claims a very maneuverable 32-ft. turning radius. The fold-and-tumble rear seats maintain the same comfort level, and easily convert into a vertical position in a two-latch process that maximizes the cargo space. You’ll get 131.7 cubic feet of space in the cargo version, and you can deliver nearly 1,900 lbs. of payload. The asymmetrical rear doors are designed to be opened to a full 180° for easier access.

The ProMaster City isn’t the cheapest of these Eurotrucks. Our City Wagon SLT model had a base price of $25,655, and options such as a rear window wiper, rear view camera, and some of the fancier accessories push it up a couple of thousand. But the combination of Italian styling and American power in a well-thought-out package is attractive. And maybe it will help bring a little peace and quiet to my neighborhood.

MONEY Autos

Why Apple Can’t Sell Cars Like iPhones

Apple employees prepare the newly released iPhone 6 for sale
Hannibal Hanschke—Reuters

Apple makes its money selling affordable luxury, but an Apple car would likely be luxury—period.

The Apple car! It’s Cupertino’s latest nonexistent product to drive the tech world into a frenzy. Ever since the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple has “several hundred employees” working on the production of a Tesla competitor (by 2020, no less, according to Bloomberg), pundits have been fighting over the viability of an Apple-branded automobile.

On Monday, Vox’s Matt Yglesias jumped into the fray, taking on what he saw as the prevailing argument against the Apple car: namely, that the car industry is a low margin business, and Apple needs high margins to keep making its usual hefty profits. Here’s Yglesias:

The misperception here is that Apple earns high margins because Apple operates in high margin industries. The truth is precisely the opposite. Apple earns high margins because it is efficient at manufacturing and firmly committed to a business strategy of sacrificing market share to maintain pricing power.

If Apple makes a car, it will be a high margin car because Apple only makes high margin products. If it succeeds it will succeed for the same reason iPhones and iPads and Macs succeed — people like them and are willing to buy them, even though you could get similar specs for less.

That’s sort of true, but it’s not the whole picture. To understand Apple’s business model, we need to take a step back. Apple earns high profits because it goes into high-volume industries dominated by low-margin players who sell relatively affordable products. Apple then makes a premium product, one where you can’t get similar specs for less—there is no other computer or smartphone with the software or build quality of an iPhone 6 or Macbook Air—and prices its offering a few hundred dollars more than the competition. Then it earns billions off this relatively small price increase by selling high quantities of units.

In other words, Apple makes premium versions of things everybody needs at prices most people can still afford. To quote a 2010 review of the iPad, by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, ” ‘Affordable luxury’ is the sweet spot for mass market success today, and Apple keeps shooting bulls eyes.” A similar strategy for an Apple car then, would be to sell a premium-quality car with higher margins (Apple’s gross margin in 2014 was close to 40%) at a still-affordable price.

The problem for Apple is that it’s a lot easier to increase margins in a low-cost industry than a high-cost one. Even if an iPhone 6 costs 100% more than a cheap LG smartphone, it’s only $200. Same thing with the Macbook Air, which is twice the price of a low-end Windows laptop but still affordable at $1,000.

But trying to get similar margins in the automobile market means a price increase of thousands of dollars, not hundreds. Double the price of a $22,970 Toyota Camry, or ask for even a 50% premium, and you’re in BMW territory. (That company’s cheapest sedan costs $32,000.)

The typical Apple customer has enough disposable income to double their phone budget and buy an iPhone 6. Buy one fewer latte a week, and you’re pretty much there. Asking someone to double their car budget is a very different story. That’s not affordable luxury, that’s luxury—period.

This isn’t to say Apple won’t make an expensive high-margin car, just like BMW. The premium car market isn’t nearly as profitable as the cell phone market, but it’s not nothing. It’s also possible Apple will make a low-margin car while charging a slight premium over the likes of GM and Ford. The entire global automobile market in 2014 was about half the size of the iPhone market alone, meaning such an endeavor would be a lot of work for not much growth, but anything is possible.

But for Apple to do either of these things would be to abandon the affordable luxury strategy that has made it the most valuable company in the world. That’s worth thinking about when considering an Apple car’s chances.

TIME Autos

Tesla Model S Named Best Car for 2nd Year in a Row

Now get ready for the Model X

Tesla doesn’t even need a new car to keep raking in accolades.

The auto startup’s flagship Model S vehicle was named the best overall vehicle by Consumer Reports for the second year in a row on Tuesday. The publication said Tesla’s ability to send software updates to its vehicles through the Internet has prevented the car from being rendered obsolete as new features are introduced in competing cars. “The Model S is a technological tour de force, a high-performance electric vehicle with usable real-world range, wrapped in a luxury package,” Consumer Reports saud.

Tesla sold almost 10,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2014 and expects to sell about 55,000 vehicles in 2015. A new SUV called the Model X will start being delivered to customers in the third quarter of the year.

TIME Autos

You Asked: How Do Driverless Cars Work?

In the future, your Dodge Laser may be equipped with an actual laser

Even though they’re barely on the road, self-driving cars have been talked about so much that they already seem like they’re last year’s model. Google has been working on one for years. Apple is allegedly, possibly, working on one, too. And there’s even speculation that everyone from Uber to Tesla could join the race, too.

But before you give up the wheel, get familiar with the technology driving autonomous vehicles.

There are three things required to turn a regular car into an automated one, according to Sridhar Lakshmanan, a self-driving auto expert and engineering professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The first is a GPS system pretty much like the ones found in many vehicles today. The second is a system to recognize dynamic conditions on the roads. And the third is a way to turn the information from the other two systems into action on your ride.

“What the autonomous system is supposed to achieve, in its full maturity, is the best of a computer, which is able to process large reams of data, and the ability of a human being to be adaptive in a new or known environment,” says Lakshmanan.

While having a GPS may seem like a no-brainer, it’s actually a vital part of a self-driving car’s over-arching technology. This system, which is essentially no different than Google Maps’ driving directions, defines the “mission” of the autonomous vehicle by setting the starting and ending point of the drive. It looks at all the roads, chooses the best path, and is often better than people at doing it.

“Human beings are not equipped to process tremendous amounts of prior data like maps,” says Lakshmanan.

But GPS alone is not enough to make a smart car. Its maps never (or rarely) change, and the reality of the road includes dynamics like detours, traffic, and other obstacles. “Autonomous driving requires a second level of intelligence with the ability to fill in additional details in the map,” says Lakshmanan. This system, which Lakshmanan calls a “differential GPS,” uses an array of technology such as radar and cameras to detect the ever-changing variables that surround it.

“If you think of the map as having a static view of the world, the sensor system is providing a dynamic fill-in to that map,” he says. “These two, together, provide what is called a ‘world model’ for that autonomous vehicle.”

Among the sensors feeding information into the differential GPS are cameras, radar, and lasers. Cameras, obviously, let the car’s computers see what’s around it. Radar, however, allows the vehicle to see up to 100 meters away in the dark, rain, snow, or other vision-imparing circumstances (Interestingly, “adaptive” cruise control systems in newer vehicles already use radar technology.) And the lasers, which look like a spinning siren light, continuously scan the world around your car and provide the vehicle with a continuous, three-dimensional omni-directional view of its surroundings.

“These sensors are providing you with raw information of the world. You need very sophisticated algorithms to process all that information, just like a human would,” says Lakshmanan.

Of course these sensors are necessary because autonomous cars are adapting to a human-driven world. There is hope that, in the future, all cars would be able to talk to each other in a connected vehicle environment. Your car would know precisely where other vehicles are, where they’re going, and where they will turn, so the computers can navigate smoothly. But we’re not there yet, says Lakshmanan, though its framework is in its experimental stage.

And lastly, the autonomous vehicle needs to be equipped to take the GPS and sensor information and turn it into actions, like steering, accelerating, or hitting the brakes. This is typically done by what’s called the “CAN bus” (which stands for controller area network). This in-vehicle electronic network has been in cars for decades, which means that autonomous vehicles of the future aren’t much different, mechanically, than the dumb-mobiles we’re driving today.

So, if someone — whether it’s Google, Apple, or a company we haven’t even heard of yet — finds a way to build an aftermarket system that would let people equip their cars with the necessary sensors to detect the world around it, one day you could kick back and let your Geo Metro take you all over the city — or even the world.

Read next: You Asked: How Do Virtual Reality Headsets Work?

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY Autos

Mini Cooper 4-Door Is a Fun Car With a Serious Price

This elongated version of the classic car is in a tug-of-war between cute little touches and a not-so-cute price tag.

Well look at you, Mini Cooper S 4-door, you’re not so mini anymore.

We have to expect that. After all, in the U.S., Mini is now a teenager, and you know what means: a growth spurt. Indeed, the Mini 4-door has added nearly more than six inches to the car’s length, in part by extending the wheelbase. This squareback has become more rectangular and with more room in the back seat. A teenager might like that.

The Mini 4-door also comes with a more grownup price. It starts at $21,700 for the base model, while the one we drove, the Mini Cooper S, weighs in at a less-than-mini $25,100.

The tags start there, but it is unlikely that any buyer could ever get away with those entry prices. The company boasts that you can get your MINI in any of eight million combinations. Eight million! As if that were a good thing.

For instance, you can choose the Cooper S sport package ($1,250), the premium package ($1,750), the media package ($750), the wired package ($1,750), the wired upgrade ($850), the loaded package ($2,250), the fully loaded ($4,500), or the flash package (a mere $400). You want rear fog lights? That’s $100. How am I supposed to know if I want rear fog lights? Apparently, no one in this company ever heard of the tyranny of choice. Why not make the most useful and popular stuff—a rear camera, say—standard and give consumers a real base price so they don’t need a spreadsheet to figure out the final cost?

Then again, that’s part of the issue with Mini, at least for me. This brand has never screamed value; it’s more about you and the unrelenting cuteness that BMW tries to impart in Mini. And it has done so brilliantly. You can personalize your Mini to the nth degree and give it a name. But this means that our test car had a sticker that neared $36,000, what with its moon roof, heated seats, and the $4,500 fully loaded package, which included everything from bonnet stripes to Xenon headlamps with cornering lights to a navigation system—but no rear camera.

At that price you are inviting competition, and there’s plenty of it. You want cute? There’s the Kia Soul, with the same hipster demeanor and a slightly lower sticker, at $21,000 all tricked out. There’s the new Fiat 500L, starting at $20,900, plus Honda’s Fit. And don’t forget the Ford Fiesta, which despite the Detroit nameplate is a true Eurohatch and starts at around $21,400. (The ST version of the Fiesta, with its 197-horsepower engine, gets admiring nods from the likes of Car and Driver, among others.) Less edgy but ever so practical is Volkswagen’s new Golf, the SE version at about $25,000 being just about everything you’d want in a Mini, but with more room and just as much vroom.

Certainly the 4-door Cooper S is a clever little devil and it may be the first color-coded car in the industry. The dash is dominated by oval designs, from the vents to the temperature controls to the giant information hub that rules the center. It’s an automotive mood ring with an 8-inch screen. The Cooper S has three driving modes—green, standard, and sport—and the ring is there to guide you, in case you’re not used to driving, I guess.

In green, or efficiency mode, the ring is of course green—unless you adjust the heat, upon which the ring goes red, white, and blue, the length of each color moving to match your temperature adjustment. If you have the nav system on—and it BMW’s clumsy version—the ring lights up in white as you approach a turn and gradually recedes around the circle as you get closer and closer to turning. Accent lighting finishes off the show: You can adjust the colors, in case you’re in a purple driving mood. Little kids are going to love this thing, and maybe drive you crazy: “Make it go orange, Mommy.” If you have difficulty distinguishing colors, alas, this isn’t your machine.

The disco dashboard has some sophisticated touches, too, including a clever adjustable steering wheel that’s integrated with the speedometer/tachometer so that the whole unit shifts; because of that, the steering wheel should never get in your sightline. At the top and bottom of the center column is a series of toggle switches, including the red on/off switch, that are reminiscent of WWII vintage aircraft. It’s a nice touch, although one toggle operates a pop-up, heads-up display that defines useless. The windshield falls away at a steep angle, giving you a wide open sensation, and the optional moonroof only adds to it. The Mini doesn’t feel as mini as it is, even in the stretched version. But it is still a Mini. Despite what the company has done to enlarge the rear seating area, including scooping out the backs of the front seats to create a knee nook, the back seats aren’t going to be anyone’s ideal of spacious,

Stretching the Mini hasn’t hurt its driving characteristics. The company still touts its go-kart steering, made possible by the car’s wide-set wheels. The basic Mini 4-door is powered by a 1.5 liter, turbo three-cylinder, 134-hp engine, which doesn’t promise to be a thrill ride. The cornering and parking ease, however, makes it a true city car. The Mini Cooper S we tested ups the ante, to a four-cylinder, twin-turboed 228-hp engine that can reach 60 miles per hour in 6.6 seconds. Perfectly adequate on the highway (and you’ll be well north of 30 miles per gallon). And when you switch to Sport mode, the difference in the 6-speed automatic transmission ($1,250, or $1,500 with paddle shifters) is noticeable.

It’s a fun ride in a fun car, but at a fairly serious price. Alas, the nimble steering of the Mini couldn’t help us evade a pothole on dark and rainy I-95 in Connecticut, which would reveal another benefit of the Cooper S model: runflat tires.

MONEY Autos

How New York’s Proposed Toll Hikes Stack Up Against Other Cities’

bridges over Hudson river
Brett Beyer—Getty Images

The tolls faced by New York City drivers today are expensive, and could get even pricier if a new proposal on the table is approved. Still, in the grand scheme, the city's tolls are cheap compared to some other places in the world.

This week, a transit advocacy group introduced the Move NY Fair Plan, a proposal to add and tweak driving fees around Manhattan in order to address what it describes as an “unfair, regressive tolling system,” while also easing traffic congestion and raising $1.5 billion annually to fund transportation infrastructure. The gist of the proposal, as summed up by the New York Times, the Times Herald-Record, and others, is that some bridge tolls would get cheaper while a few new tolls would be added according to “a logical formula: higher tolls where transit options are most available and lower tolls where transit is either not available or a less viable option.”

The plan calls for tolls to be added to four bridges that cross the East River but traditionally have been toll-free: Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queensboro, and Williamsburg. Vehicles would also start being hit with a fee when they cross 60th Street northbound or southbound in Manhattan. In both cases, the new tolls would run $5.54 each way for E-ZPass users, and $8 for others. Meanwhile, tolls on a few other New York City bridges, including the Verrazano Narrows, Throgs Neck, and Bronx-Whitestone, would be reduced by $2.50 for E-ZPass holders.

The overarching argument in favor of the changes is that the existing system of tolls and transit fares isn’t sufficient to fund infrastructure needs, and that today’s tolls are just plain unfair. Hence the proposed “Fair Plan.”

But how “fair” would the new tolls be compared to what drivers face elsewhere? The proposal—which for now is just that, a proposal that may not win much support in the city or Albany—would have no effect whatsoever on the bridges and tunnels run by the Port Authority, including the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, among others. If the plan is approved, the East River Bridge tolls—again, $5.54 each way with E-ZPass, so $11.08 round trip—would be cheaper than a Port Authority bridge or tunnel crossing into New York during peak commuting hours ($11.75), but pricier than an off-peak trip ($9.75).

Among other pricey bridges and tunnels around the U.S. and abroad:

Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel: The $15 toll during peak season (Friday to Monday, May 15 to September 15) is quite pricey, but hey, this engineering wonder connecting Virginia’s Eastern Shore to Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach is 20 miles long.

Golden Gate Bridge: At a cost of $6 to $7 only for cars heading into San Francisco, the Golden Gate doesn’t charge as if it’s one of America’s most famous landmarks.

Whittier Tunnel: This 2.5-mile passage in between Anchorage, Alaska, and Whittier and Prince William Sound is the longest highway tunnel in the U.S., and it only has one lane that must be shared by cars and trains. The cost of driving through in a standard vehicle is $12 one way.

Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge: Also known as Pearl Bridge, Japan’s Akashi-Kaikyo has the world’s longest central span of any suspension bridge, at 1.2 miles. Driving across costs 2,300 Yen, which is around $20 per vehicle today. The toll used to be closer to $30 back in the days when the American dollar wasn’t quite as strong.

Mont Blanc Tunnel: This passage crossing the France-Italy border in the Alps is impressive for two key data points. The tunnel stretches a total of 7.2 miles, and driving through costs about $49 one way.

As for the idea that drivers in the New York City area be charged not for crossing a body of water but simply for entering or exiting Manhattan’s CBD (central business district), Singapore, Milan, London, and Stockholm have had similar toll systems in place for years. London’s “congestion pricing” scheme has been in place since 2003. Back then, the daily charge for driving in central London was £5, or about $7.75 today. The driving surcharge has since increased, hitting £11.50 ($18) last summer.

Compared to that, the $5.54 charge to drive into lower Manhattan just might seem cheap.

MONEY Autos

Why Rolls-Royce and Bentley Are Making SUVs Now

Bentley and Rolls-Royce are joining Porsche, Mercedes Benz and other major luxury car makers in creating an SUV model.

TIME Autos

What Car Salesmen Are Going to Disney to Learn

Chevrolet

How your Chevrolet dealer is taking lessons from Disney, Apple and McDonald's

What do Disneyland and Chevrolet have in common? Car dealers.

Chevrolet—by far the largest-selling brand owned by General Motors—has been sending its auto dealers to Disney World for the past four years. As part of a program that began in January 2011, Chevy sales teams participate in workshops in Orlando and Anaheim with the Disney Institute, Disney’s customer-service consulting division.

The Disney Institute, which works with a wide range of companies from Häagen-Dazs to United Airlines, specializes in retraining company employees in customer service. There, Chevrolet dealers are taught to act like theater actors: When they meet customers at the dealership, they’re onstage playing the gracious host. Through this process, Chevy dealers learn the finer points of focusing on the customer, an art the Mouse House has perfected over the years.

The Disney training is part of GM’s broader post-bankruptcy strategy to turn car buying into a more pleasant experience, a plan that also includes convincing dealers to undergo costly renovations. That’s not as easy as it might sound: Dealers have long enjoyed a great deal of autonomy from automakers, meaning GM is limited in what it can force them to do.

To GM, the training and renovations make sense: It essentially wants to apply the McDonald’s or Starbucks model to its dealerships, helping ensure car buyers get a positive and similar experience no matter which location they enter. Today, buying a car is often stressful, and it’s a hassle, a truth admitted even by automobile executives like Alan Batey, the executive GM vice president and former global chief of Chevrolet.

Chevrolet

Purchasing a car, Batey says, is not the ordeal “that comes to mind, when one asks, ‘What is the world class [shopping] experience?'” That’s the problem that Disney and all the renovations are meant to solve.

Chevrolet used successful models when it began considering renovating stores and retraining employees. “Apple is one of the companies we really looked at,” Batey says.“A little bit like McDonald’s, the [new Chevrolet] stores look the same and feel the same. The analogy to McDonalds would be they have the yellow arches. We talk about ‘under the blue arch.’”

But to some dealers, the changes represent an overbearing attempt by GM to exert more control over how they run their businesses. A dealer in Oklahoma sold his dealership in 2012 when Chevrolet asked him to renovate it or risk losing $250,000 per quarter in dealer-excellence money from Chevrolet. A billionaire dealer in Miami, Norman Braman, sued GM over a separate program that he says would have withheld a bonus if he didn’t place limestone on his Cadillac’s store exterior. (A settlement was reached in 2013.) Joel Sassa, who runs Chevy’s marketing in the New York metropolitan area, says many dealers went to the Disney training “kicking and screaming.”

But not every dealer is balking at Chevrolet’s new ideas. Sassa says only a couple of the 63 dealerships he oversees haven’t been renovated. The holdouts, he says, “think everyone wants wood paneling and a dead fish on the wall.” But for the others, the renovations and Disney training have translated into happier customers. “You just kind of see that light bulb go off above their head and it’s like, ‘okay, I get it,'” says Sassa.

Chevrolet

The total cost to dealership managers of sending their team down to Disney in Orlando is $2500 and $2700 for each attendee, plus airfare and accommodations, Sassa says. More than 4800 dealers have attended the Disney training in Orlando and Anaheim and over 200 workshops have been completed around the country.

This year, eight out of ten cars Chevrolet sells will go through refurbished dealerships. Dealership renovations are often a big financial burden, and the expense doesn’t always pay off. GM says it shares the cost of the refurbishments with dealers, but dealers only are reimbursed when they sell a certain number of automobiles. A report funded by the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) found that when manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, or General Motors require their certified dealers to standardize their dealerships, the economic value is often “weakly demonstrated.” Many dealers are skeptical about huge investments without being sure of their return.

Frank Endress, the manager of a Chevrolet dealership in a suburb of New York, says that he’s seen a 20% increase in his service department in 2014 over the year before, and says it’s thanks to refurbishing the dealership. Overall, Chevrolet says that dealers that have gone through the full renovation have seen about a 5% increase in sales. But Sassa said that with auto industry roaring back to life and most Chevrolet dealers already done with the program, it’s hard to tell if the renovations and retraining were really affecting their sales beyond a “couple of percentage points.”

With customers doing their research on the Internet, car dealers have to be a lot sharper. “You probably could have buffaloed people 10 years ago,” said Sassa. But now car buyers have already done their research by the time they’re ready to purchase, and a dealer’s goal is less about persuading and pushing, and more about service.

But don’t expect Disneyland when you go buy your next car. “We’re not going to have Mickey Mouses running around,” jokes Batey.

TIME public health

People Who Sext Are More Likely to Text While Driving

texting while driving
Getty Images

'Technological deviance' may be the reason why

More than a quarter of American adults admit to texting while driving, but not everyone is equally likely to engage in the dangerous practice, finds a new study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. People who text and drive are more likely to be white than nonwhite, men than women and sexters than the sext-abstinent.

“In modern social life, we are tethered to our devices,” says study author Steven Seiler, assistant professor of sociology at Tennessee Tech University. “When we’re driving, we’re simply taking the norms that we have in other areas of life.”

The study evaluated survey data from more than 2,200 American adults and found that more than 27% of drivers admitted to texting while driving. The practice seemed to be fueled by a sense of constant connection to others. What the authors call “technological deviance,” a disregard for social norms around technology, may help explain why sexting was an associated behavior.

Read More: How Your Cell Phone Distracts You Even When You’re Not Using It

Even though a majority of states ban texting while driving, Seiler says he is skeptical that such laws are the most effective way to stop the practice. New Jersey, a state that keeps extensive records on texting-while-driving enforcement, enacted strict laws to ban the practice more than five years ago, but hasn’t seen a decline since, Seiler says.

“When there’s laws prohibiting mobile phones, rather than keeping the mobile phones near their face, they’ll keep it in their lap,” he says. “The change has to occur on a cultural level, not simply stricter laws.”

Much like state laws, simple restrictions aren’t likely to change culture. Students who attend a school that bans mobile phones from the classroom are more likely to engage in texting while driving, Seiler says he found in an forthcoming study. “They’re catching up on that time lost,” he says. “This goes back to how integrated cell phones are with our relationships.”

To truly eradicate the practice, Seiler says the dangers of texting while driving need to be ingrained in a child early in their socialization. Parents need to monitor their children’s texting, and texting while driving should have consequences, he says.

Traffic safety campaigns should try to spread the message in every way possible, much like the seatbelt campaign of the 1990s, he says. In the United States in 2012, more than 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving accidents, which include talking on the phone and texting while driving.

Read more: Why People Text And Drive Even When They Know It’s Dangerous

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser