Cash-strapped drivers see red
TWO years ago pensioner John Smart's prized Citroen was written off when someone crashed into the back of him.
It was a blessing in disguise.
The accident forced him to reconsider his approach to motoring and he took the decision to run just one car.
The 76-year-old estimates it has saved him £25 a week in fuel – £1,300 a year.
"It was the first time in my life I had ever downgraded, but I didn't realise it was going to be so advantageous," he said.
"We have to live within our means."
His is a perfect example of how the rising cost of petrol is changing society.
In a recent survey of petrol stations in Tunbridge Wells' town centre the average cost of a litre of petrol ranged from 142.9p to 144.9p.
A Courier online survey of 145 people found 63 per cent of those polled had cut back on how much they used their cars – or had even stopped driving completely – because of the high cost of fuel.
Young and old are increasingly finding they are being priced off the road as petrol prices continue to soar.
The graph has been heading in the wrong direction since the mid 1990s, but the past ten years have seen an unprecedented spike.
AA president Edmund King said the country's 35 million motorists had suffered so badly from petrol price rises some were even struggling to buy food.
He added: "Filling up a 50-litre tank costs more than some families spend on food each week.
"Panic buying in March forced some cash-strapped families to spend far more on fuel than their budgets could bear.
"Pump prices that many people can't afford means lost high street spending, higher transport costs, rising inflation, lost tax from lower fuel sales, lost tax from businesses going bust, lost tax from workers losing their jobs and a bigger unemployment benefit bill."
Among those struggling to deal with the rapidly-rising costs are charities.
Age UK Sevenoaks and Tonbridge spokesman Nick Chamberlain said they spent just over £700 on transporting older people in the area to their Hollybush Court day centre during March 2011.
Last month that cost broke through the £1,000 mark.
Chief officer Gillian Shepherd-Coates said: "At a time when Government funding to the charity has been cut, the costs of bringing older people into our Sevenoaks day centre has increased by over £3,500 a year, and who know where the fuel increases will end?
"We are doing everything we can to make sure the impact felt by our clients is minimal but, if things continue as they have been, we will be forced to pass on some of the costs to the older people we're here to help."
Simon Chapman, chief economist at the Freight Transport Association, based in Tunbridge Wells, argued its members were suffering disproportionately with each fuel price rise.
He said: "Unleaded has gone up by 5 per cent since the beginning of the year. This is the equivalent of about 6p."
Mr Chapman insisted for every 1p increase the cost of filling up a lorry increases by £400 a year, meaning operators were facing extra expenditure of £2,500 per annum because of this year's hikes.
He said: "We're a group where demand for a product is inelastic. We're dependent on it.
"For some motorists, the journeys can be done by bus or train instead of the car – but you can't do that with freight. You can't put freight on the bus."
Don't miss part two of this special investigation next week, when we look at what people and firms are doing to cope with soaring petrol costs.