October 20, 2010

Me and Autowallah(s)


First a short story: 

Last summer, I had to drop off one of my family member to the Old Delhi Railway Station. And family didn't want me to go in bus (along with the luggage). So unwillingly in the sweltering heat I left home in search of an auto. Now its well into noon. So, spotting auto was anyway difficult. But I tried and kept on asking one autowallah to another to go to the station. Everyone kept refusing: one said they won't go there, one said no petrol, one was too tired, one didn't even stop, one said he had prior commitments, one was charging astronomically high (so sad, his meter also wasn't working that day). After 6 unfailed attempts, and running around for about 2 kms, I finally got an auto to go there, that too by meter. And the reason he agreed was because the fare charges had increased that very day. Anyway, I took the auto back home and we started the journey to the station. All around the route, I thought he was taking alternative routes in order to take us for a ride. But I overlooked it, and kept my eyes on the kms travelled and doing fare calculations all the way (the meter wasn't updated with new fares). In the end the fare turned out to be 20 Rs. less than what the autowallah was originally asking. But then, he started asking for 10 Rs. luggage charge for 2 bags that were so light, that even I could carry them! So we haggled for sometime and didn't give him any 'tip'. End of Story 

Well the above incident is not one off. In fact, this is more the norm than an exception for me (and for many others I am sure). And that's where I hate travelling by autos. 

OK, I understand that CNG prices are rising day by day and the autowallahs have to spend a tonne in the maintenance of their carrier. And so periodic revision in auto fares is justified. What I don't understand is that even when the fares rise, they don't get ready to go by meters but instead start asking for more money. I would always want to go by meter even if it costs me more in the end. Whats fare is fair. At least, that way I will be saved from the headache of quarreling for fare. 

Another problem is that they simply refuse to go at some places, may be because they won't get another 'savaari' from that area or may be its too close/far off. But, doesn't auto come under public transport? So why do they think of it as a private vehicle in which they are doing us a favor by giving 'paid lift'. 

Yet another problem is their misbehavior. Now, all these problems may appear to be copied from the local newspaper, but I am writing these after experiencing them first hand. Many a times, they simply ignore the passenger. If you ask to go by meter they will bluntly refuse. In case you go on and say you will complain, then better watch out for those expletives. 

And well autowallahs isn't the only guilty party. Their poor cousins rikhshawallahs are even worse. Yeah, I know these are not good old 90's days where you can travel 3-4 kms for just Rs. 5. So, the minimum a rikshawallah will ask is Rs. 10 even if its for 1 km. The prices they quote (no really, they quote!) show undigestable variance. This Sunday only, one rikshawallah asked for 40 Rs. to go to a place where I went by giving Rs. 20 just 2 days before! For autos at least the govt. fixes the fare. But what about rikshaws? 

Now, the simple solution to all these problems is to simply ignore auto and rikshaws and use other means of transport, right? Well, that's exactly what I do. The distance that the rikshaw usually covers is < 3Kms. And I prefer to jog/walk my way till the destination. The autos usually cover a larger distance. But more often than not, you can get buses/metro also close to your destination. Yeah, they can be crowded, but I prefer physical discomfort than mental one (I admit, I am not the best in the world when it comes to bargaining). One less vehicle on crowded road because of you is an added bonus. And not to forget the large sum of (pocket) money you are saving doing this! 

But, alas, sometimes you don't have a choice. Some elderly person may be travelling with you. Someone might be too tired/weak/sick to walk with you. Or you may have to reach your destination at the earliest (not knowing exactly where to go). In all these conditions you have to return to bad old auto and rikshawallahs. Now, I will be fare (fair!) and say that I have met a few rikshawallahs and autowallahs that were kind enough to go by meter or whatever price you tell without much group discussion. But those ones are an endangered breed. 

So, God either give me strength to fight this unfare treatment from autowallahs or give them some brains, so I have one less thing to maunder about. 

PS: One friend of mine once said, "if you can't resist molestation, enjoy it." (it wasn't exactly 'molestation' he said). Another friend of mine, once told me an inspiring story of how a semi-literate man built a mini empire of sort by buying and running rikshaws. What I get from these two anecdotes is that, since I have suffered a lot due to rikshaws and I am not great in studies either, I should probably buy a rikshaw and become a rikshawallah. That way auto and rikshaws won't be a pain but competition! After all, Be the change you want to see.