Dear Economist: I often share a taxi home with friends, and wonder, how best to split the bill?

I often share a taxi home with friends, and wonder how best to split the bill. When dropping a friend off first, I have received contributions varying from nothing to the full fare. If I get out first, what should I pay? As a woman with a large collection of frivolous shoes, walking home is a last resort.
Frances, Brussels

Dear Frances,

Of course contributions vary.

In a bar with friends, haven’t you noticed that sometimes somebody pays for your drink, and at other times you buy a round for everyone?

But in the long run, the saving should be divided fairly – a word with many interpretations. If three friends would have paid €4, €8 and €12 for taxis along the same route, and now must pay €12 in total, the total saving is €12.

That saving could be divided equally, €4 apiece, meaning fares of zero, €4 and €8. Or it could be divided in proportion to the original fares, meaning fares of €2, €4 and €6. Or the first leg could be split three ways, the second leg halved, and the third leg paid by the final passenger, implying fares of €1.34, €3.34 and €7.34.

There is no magic formula.

That is why no economist would share a cab without agreeing terms beforehand.

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Tim Harford’s blog

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.