Suburban nightmare: how much skyrocketing petrol prices are costing you

The typical Sydney driver is spending about $15 more each week on petrol than they were last year as skyrocketing fuel prices hit household budgets and force motorists to review their habits.

Analysis by the Herald shows how the rising cost of petrol has affected parts of the city much more than others, with commuters from the outer suburbs paying upwards of $20 a week more than this time last year just to cover their weekday commuting.

The typical Sydney driver is spending about $15 a week more on petrol than they were a year ago.Credit:Flavio Brancaleone

The average driver in Greater Sydney drives 10,200km a year, or about 200km a week, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from 2017-18 (which is probably a better estimate of normal activity than the lower figures from COVID-affected 2020-21).

That means the driver of a petrol car consuming fuel at the rate of 10.7lt/100km (the NSW average, based on ABS data) is now paying $44.94 to travel that distance each week, compared to $29.96 a year ago. If they are using Premium 98 they are paying $49.86 today compared to $34.67 last year.

That’s based on today’s average price of $2.10 a litre for E10 and $2.33 a litre for P98, compared to the April 2021 average price of $1.40 a litre for E10 and $1.62 for P98 according to Fuel Check NSW.

But there’s a stark difference between car-dependent parts of Sydney and the inner suburbs where it’s easier to walk or catch public transport. Transport for NSW’s Household Travel Survey data from 2020-21 – which captures weekday driving only – shows that while motorists from Sydney’s inner west drive 19.3km each weekday on average, those in Penrith and Blacktown drive 34.1km, while those in the Camden local government area drive 42.8km.

That means the typical driver from the inner west now pays $21.68 a week to cover their weekday commuting, up from $14.68 a year ago, while the driver from Penrith or Blacktown pays $38.31, up from $25.54 – more if they are using premium petrol.

If you are a driver from the Hawkesbury local government area, you are paying $62.02 to fuel your weekday commuting using E10, up from $41.34 a year ago, and $39.73 a week if you are from the Sutherland Shire, up from $26.48.

These figures do not include any tolls or weekend driving. Many suburban commuters also take additional forms of transport to get to work; they may drive to a station and then catch the train, incurring further costs. And if you are a regular car commuter across Sydney you would likely be travelling greater distances than those averages.

The NRMA supplied data for the Herald showing the cost of petrol for a Toyota Camry sedan driver travelling 300km a week is $43.86 a week with Premium 95 at $2.15 a litre, or $2280.72 a year. If the price of premium petrol rose to $2.55 a litre, that annual cost would reach $2705.04.

For a Mazda CX5 four-wheel-drive owner filling up with regular unleaded, the annual cost of fuel was nearly $2000 when petrol was $1.80 a litre, rising to $2368.08 at $2.20 a litre.

NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury said the steep increase in petrol prices was most damaging to people who can’t afford to upgrade their cars regularly, residents of Sydney’s outer suburbs, and people in regional areas who tend to drive bigger cars and longer distances.

“We’ve never seen prices like this before in Australia and this data quantifies what it means for families,” he said. “The people who are exposed to it are the ones who can afford it the least.”

Oil fell back under $US100 a barrel this week and the savings are starting to flow through at the bowser, though not by a lot so far.

“If that continues there is some relief in sight,” Mr Khoury said, though he warned we were in uncharted territory. “As quickly as oil prices went down, they can go back up again.”

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