The clock is ticking, the meter is running

Our time has a value. And while we might not explicitly think about it in monetary terms, we often make decisions based on our valuation of our time. For instance, if I decide to drive across town to save a fuel dollars (for the sake of argument, we’ll say after the cost of fuel), I have, perhaps implicitly, assessed that the additional time is less valuable than the dollars I will be saving. Alternatively, if I say “It’s only a few bucks” and buy the product without looking further, I’ve concluded that my time is more valuable to me than the money I could be saving. Our transportation preferences reflect similar valuations. A taxi is more expensive than taking the subway, but the subway will likely take longer. We have to decide, given the value of our time, what the best decision to make is.

In the town of Wukro, where I am currently working, I am faced very directly with this question on a daily basis. Wukro is a small town with one main street than spans for a little over a mile. However, this does not stop there from being public transportation. There are rickshaws–known here as budgets–that spend the day going up and down the main street on a continued basis. You can flag a budget, and hop in as it goes on this main, one street loop, and ask to get out when you reach the point closest to you on the main street.

The three locations of most relevance to me, my hotel, the office of REST (our partner organization), and the bus station to go to the bigger town (to get supplies, access an ATM, meet with REST’s main finance department, etc) all fall on the main street. (A fourth location of interest would probably also be the juice bar next to my hotel, but I’m not including it in this analysis). I also regularly make these treks, which are not long at all. I can walk to the REST office from my hotel in 5 minutes. However, I also have the option of taking a budget, which costs…. 5 cents (1 birr).

I am therefore forced very regularly to appraise the value of five minutes of my time. I can pay five cents and get there quite quickly, or walk, get the exercise, and spend a bit longer. It also gets a bit more complicated if there are no budgets and I start to walk. When I then see a budget, do I save 2 minutes and take it the rest of the way? Or better to walk? When I am in the bigger town, Mekelle, and need to hire a budget to do a “private route” for about a dollar to save 10 minutes, again, what is the best value?

Normally, during work hours I conclude that five minutes of my time is in fact worth five cents. (I suppose after all, I AM making more than 60 cents an hour, which is worth considering). However, I find myself constantly hearing the honks of the entrepreneurial budget drivers and asking myself “Worth it?”

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