A topic that has been running through my head recently is the concept of fairness vs frugality. It seems to me that the two can be quite at odds at each other.. Quite often, the most frugal options are fundamentally unfair.
To take a rather extreme example, the cheapest way to pay for dining out is to walk out on the bill. But that is so fundamentally unfair (and illegal), that no one would recommend it.
But what about a more nuanced question? The specific dilemma I’ve been facing is that of car-pooling costs.
I’ve written several times about my job and my method of transportation. A couple of weeks ago, that changed. The project I was hired for, just 8 miles from my home, is winding down and I’ve been working in the Boulder suburb of Niwot. At 45 miles one-way, it is obviously not a bike-friendly commute.
Enter my coworker N. N lives on the other side of the interstate from me and has been driving to my house to take me to our new job site. He had already been driving to Niwot for several weeks when I got transferred down there. (Ironically, when he first started working for the company, I had a car and he didn’t!)
N has to drive 6 miles out of his way to get to his house. Then 6 miles back to the interstate. One the way home, that is repeated. That means that, to take me to and from work, he has to drive 24 miles extra per day using nearly an extra gallon of gas.
Obviously, he needs to be compensated in some way. The questions is, how much is fair?
Fair vs Frugal Carpooling option #1: Pay for the extra miles
There are two ways that “fair” could possibly be defined. I could simply reimburse him for the gas he burns to go out of his way on his own commute to pick me up. This would cost me about $12 per week. It could be considered fair because he is being reimbursed for doing something he wouldn’t be doing otherwise. It would be frugal because it would be the minimum “fair” cost I could possibly get for my commute.
Fair vs Frugal Carpooling option #2: Pay half
But is that really fair? I’m getting 360 commuting miles per week (Wednesdays I’m still at the more local job) for $12. If I had my own means of transportation, it wouldn’t be that cheap. It would be more like $45. Wouldn’t it be more fair to pay half of that? In a standard car-pooling situation, we would switch off on driving and be buying half as much gas an individual commute. In other words, I should be paying about $22 per week.
So my two options are to pay only for the extra miles he’s driving, or to pay for half of all the miles he’s driving. Under different philosophical systems, both can be considered fair. Obviously, option #1 is more frugal. So far, I’ve used option 1 once by paying for a tank of gas when I gauged that the extra mileage had added up. I was actually a little insulted when he seemed surprised that I even offered! But I’m a little concerned that, as the weeks roll by, he may start feeling that I’m taking advantage of him to get a nearly free commute.
Which option do you believe is fair? Should I be paying only for the extra gas he’s burning or for half the trip?