As the price of petrol peaks and the cost of living soars, giving a mate a lift is fast becoming the ultimate act of altruism.
As young women with active social lives and a reluctance to take public transport late at night, my friends and I spent a lot of our early 20s playing designated driver to one other.
But the other night, a friend gave me a lift home and it felt like an especially big deal. I had initially planned to take an Uber – the fare was quoted at around $25 – but she offered to go slightly out of her way to save me the trouble.
“Are you sure?” I asked, before cautiously adding: “Don’t forget the price of petrol!”
I saw her do a swift cost-benefit analysis in her head before responding, “I’m sure. Hopefully traffic isn’t too bad”.
I thanked her profusely for the entire trip.
Unfortunately, we live in a time where even a quick 10km jaunt in the opposite direction requires serious financial evaluation.
Even with the fuel excise temporarily cut (down from 44.2 cents per litre to 22.1 cents per litre), post-Covid demand and the worsening war between Russia and the Ukraine has meant petrol prices are hitting highs not seen since 2008.
At the time of writing, the RACV lists the average petrol price as $2.04 a litre, peaking at $2.16 in some locations and only dropping down to $1.73 for bargain hunters willing to do their research.
According to the trip computer on my Subaru Outback, I’m burning through roughly 11L/100km.
With current prices, that’s about $20 of fuel per 100km, or just over $1 for every 5km. Round that up to $1.50 for the time spent idling in traffic, and all of a sudden you can put a dollar figure against that quick side trip to collect your car-less friend.
And that’s before you factor in tolls and the general price of owning a car – insurance, registration, maintenance costs – in among rising mortgage repayments, record-high supermarket prices, and household expenses that seem to know no limit.
It might sound overly pedantic and horribly stingy, but I’ve sheepishly caught myself thinking twice before offering to carpool with friends, play designated driver on a night out, or go out of my way to drop friends home.
And it’s not just me – it appears the feeling goes both ways. Family members who would normally beg me for a lift to the airport have instead opted for taxis, while friends without licences have insisted on getting the train home during peak hour.
Collectively, we’re all on the same wavelength – and budget.
Of course, the value of ensuring a loved one gets home safely, or the joy of personally meeting a family member at the airport, is priceless and more than worth the petrol costs.
However, I see this hesitation to do what I’ve previously never given a second thought as indicative of a broader societal shift to look out for one’s own patch – whether on the road or otherwise.
Call it hip-pocket nerves if you will, but none of us know what the future holds from one week to the next, with an election looming and politicians making promises we’re no longer confident they can keep.
I’m sure if I asked my parents, they’d recall a similar chapter in their own early adulthoods, with the ebb and flow of global politics often felt first at the bowser.
So, I’ve decided offering people a lift is actually the ultimate ‘up yours’ to the state of the world. Playing designated driver is not just a matter of being a good mate, it’s a refreshing way to reclaim a sense of humanity and altruism in amongst all the troubling headlines.
Sure, you’re not saving lives, but you’re placing the needs of friends and family above a niggling desire to hoard every penny, hide all your cash under a mattress, and build a bunker filled with canned food for the impending apocalypse (and don’t try telling me this hasn’t crossed your mind at least once).
Even if the cost of dropping a friend home safely after a night out is now the same as a takeaway almond flat white at Melbourne’s trendiest cafe, that’s a caffeine hit I’d gladly sacrifice.
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