Saturday, August 2, 2008

So near and yet so far, with distance measured in litres

Geoff Strong
August 2, 2008

BURBLING along on six or eight cylinders, the chariots of choice on Melbourne's urban fringe have usually been muscular Aussie cars.

Thirst was not a problem in good times, and Martin Chiriano used his old Falcon as much for pleasure as transport, just cruising where he fancied.

Along came the fuel squeeze, which made such trips a dream. Now every journey must be evaluated, social contact constricted, distant friends unseen and a party invitation on the other side of Melbourne might as well be on Mars.

"I could go where I wanted," he said. "It was not just transport, it was fun. Now I calculate it costs me $6 for a round trip to Werribee Plaza."

If fuel is the lifeblood of Melbourne's sprawling outer suburban dream, the dream is looking decidedly anaemic as low-income earners battle prices that in recent weeks have hit $1.70 a litre.

If they can afford it, they swap their battlermobiles for such cheap imports as Hyundais, or wait months in the queue for an LPG conversion.

Despite his 1996 four-litre Falcon's guzzling, Mr Chiriano has been able to rein in some costs, moving back to his family home in Werribee and shifting his university course to the nearby campus of Victoria University instead of distant Footscray.

Many low-income earners in the outer suburbs are finding themselves trapped. "I never go to the city now," he said.

His friend Julie Barrios, of Taylor's Lakes, does not even have this choice. She calculates she spends half her earnings as a freelance personal carer on the petrol for her 1998 Commodore.

"I am losing half my wage," she said. "It is costing me $180 a week for fuel. I can't sell the car for much, and if I buy a new one I'll be losing money on the repayments. I'm stuck in a trap."

Jamie Lester, of Narre Warren, has found himself in an even more expensive trap. His 1989 V8 Commodore is costing $250 a week to get him to his job in Altona.

"I want to get rid of it, it's killing me," he said. "I am also looking at moving over west to save on costs."

Jia Jekovski, with her three children and 2000 Falcon, is faced with a similar problem. They live in Hoppers Crossing but have family in Dandenong...

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