The Price Per Ride

Recently I was talking to a friend whose mother now lives alone and relies on her car to get her around.  She does not want to give her independence, and her independence is tied up in owning and operating a car.  I remember those days well.  Then I think of the day that my father, a man who made his living driving a station wagon loaded with engineering equipment up and down the interstate highway system, announced to me that he wanted to give up his car.

Two things convinced him.  First, he had a finely-honed survival instinct.  One reason that he made it to 93 years of age was his keen ability to assess the odds in life or death situations and make the right decision.  Driving had become dangerous and he knew it.  The second was that we had talked about the price per ride of having his car.

One Sunday together, we sat at his desk and collaborated on the math. As he aged, he had limited his nighttime driving, then driving in bad weather, then his driving to unfamiliar places, and by the end, most driving other than to my place.  By the end, he was down to 20 miles every other week tops, which at $3/gallon and 20 miles per gallon was not much, about $100 per year.  “It’s not that much” was his logic.

Then I started in with the green-eyeshade techniques.  His insurance cost him about $1,000 year.  His car was still depreciating.  Although his car was a middle-aged Chevy Impala with some signs of “gentle use”, it was probably another $1,000 per year.  Registration, fees, inspection, taxes, you name it – call that $250.  I’m not even adding repairs, which (a) middle-aged Chevys need and (b) middle-aged sons need to help organize for their elderly fathers.  So they were expensive all around.

The arithmetic added up to almost $2,400 year for about 1000 miles of driving, or $2.40 per mile.  Or, we could call his favorite Framingham outfit Tommy’s Taxi and they would drive him anywhere he wanted, anytime he wanted, for less than $1.  A trip to my house would be $30 round trip – he could do that 80 times before he came close to being behind.

Was appealing to my father’s Depression-era cheapness kind of a dirty trick?  Maybe.  But I just wanted him to have all the facts.

This was in the era before Uber really became mainstream in the suburbs.  Now it might be even easier to describe this to your parent who doesn’t want to hand over their keys.  My father got to keep his independence and feel like he had outsmarted everyone: his 2 favorite things.

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