Public First Program


Shane Elson


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+61-4-1349 7828

April 2007 # 4

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Back to Editorials 2007

Hitchin' a Ride

Things are bad when a litre of petrol costs more than a litre of Coke! Things must be bad when the poor have to compete with the rich for scarce resources. You know things are really bad when the International Association of Hitch Hikers puts out a press release.

This group is not well known outside its constituents. The people who form the membership of the IAHH are drawn from the lower socio-economic strata of our society and are not usually in a position to put out press releases. This situation has changed somewhat as the IAHH has now been joined in their fight against the rich by the International Taxi Confederation. The ITC has lent its resources to the IAHH and they have joined forces to stop what they say is a disturbing trend.

A well known phenomenon associated with the wealthy is their aversion to spending their own money. In what is seen by the global taxi industry and hitchhikers as a growing movement, men and women in business suits and bling are taking to the streets and putting out “the thumb”.

The “thumb” is the internationally recognised symbol of poverty and hardship. It has also been associated with the young and adventurous. However the hitchhiker’s movement claims that the young and carefree are not prepared to slum it any longer, preferring instead the luxury of the flight lounge and cheap overseas holidays. Building on this decline in youthful exuberance, hitchhikers have taken back “the thumb” and are prepared to fight to defend their claim to it.

With petrol costs spiralling a new movement has been created within the backrooms of the boardrooms at the big end of town. The bean counters have finally convinced their peers that having a corporate car is more that just a status symbol. They successfully argued that if the executives wanted to be able to continue to enjoy the trappings of wealth they would have to give something up. That thing, they argued, was the car.

Costs were blowing out, the bean counters wailed. Profits are slumping and that means one thing. We must cut costs. When one executive butted in and said that he was just going to sack more workers, he was reminded that the company had already done that and there was no one left to sack. After much discussion and funding of academic research to give their claims some validity, there was, in the end, almost unanimous support for giving back the keys to the company car.

The research funded by these canny business types found that the average driver was much less willing to pick up someone who looked poor than someone with bling. Feeling very self confident and even more self important, the business types even managed to feel justified as they handed back the keys to the company Pajeros, Fairlanes, V8 Supersports and their beloved Mercs, BMs and Jags.

And so it is we come to competition on the highways and byways of the world. The wealthy competing with the poor for seat space due to the petrol crisis. However, as they say not everything works out for the best. As competition for the spare car seat becomes even more intense as thousands of suits take to the roads, those in the middle class realised that a new market was opening up. So, instead of offering the ride as an act of mateship and solidarity, motorists have started charging for a ride.

It was not long before things got out of hand. As more and more company executives succumbed to this new form of downshifting competition for rides increased. At the start motorists were prepared to only charge for the ride. Drivers viewed this new phenomenon as little more than a tea money generator but it was not long before a new set of road rules emerged. Under these new rules drivers would not disclose their fares until the hitchhiker was in the car seated and belted up. The more entrepreneurial drivers began basing fares on a correlation of gross income to distance travelled. Some just demanded that the bling laden business type hand over the contents of their wallets or get out.

The unforseen consequence of this rise of the hitchhiking business executive was a reduction in available car space for the genuine poor and needy. They found that their rides dried up in direct proportion to the number of executives in each car. With public trust already on the wane genuine hitchhikers found that this new competition was just too difficult to beat on their own.

In collaboration with the International Taxi Confederation the International Association of Hitch Hikers formed an alliance to fight the downturn in business both faced. After all, taxi drivers were just as affected by the new trends in business class travel, as it is now referred to. Business executives had long argued that a separate taxi system was needed just for them. One in which they could be sure the last passenger was not a hep riddled junky on the way home from their latest bender. While the new business class travel opportunities provide only about the same odds as the random taxi pick-up the cost benefit ratio was much higher.

And so it is that two sides of the street face off as increasing fuel costs sort at the natural order of things. Those too poor to afford a vehicle or whose luck has waned must now compete with those who luck, inheritance, mates or fate have elevated to the upper strata of our society for the ability to travel freely across town or across the nation. Taxi drivers, themselves often working for little more that survival money, find they must compete with the family car for the business dollar. Meanwhile, in the backrooms and boardrooms of the multinational oil companies, the bean counters plan their retirements on exclusive and secluded tropical islands.

As in all cases the issue is one of resources and who has access to controlling the distribution of them. As the campaign to drive the suits and their bling off the roads becomes more obvious, we should spare a thought for the hitchhikers. They remind us, as we speed past them in our air conditioned, climate controlled, hands-free people movers that those who lug their earthly possessions around in stripy plastic bags are not really that different to those who drape themselves in bling.

What separates them is an artificial barrier constructed over millennia. A barrier that is not part of the natural order but one which is man made. Hitchhikers and suits both share a common humanity. What they don’t share are resources. Not because they cant but because one group doesn’t want to. Perhaps one day soon the men in suits will have to descend into the jungle they helped cultivate and I suggest this will really put to the test their faith in economic Darwinism. Perhaps they will finally see their trickle down effect in action. Maybe then they may even appreciate the offer of a swig from a refilled coke bottle.

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