Monthly Archives: March 2013

India’s National Vehicle?

By | Autos | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

A few days ago, the following tweet caught my attention:

Priya has hit the nail on the head – the venerable auto rickshaw is indeed India’s national vehicle. It is quintessentially Indian and is a ubiquitous sight in the urban landscape. Unlike the national animal, however, there’s little danger of it becoming an endangered species..

Anand Halve replied to Priya’s tweet with a witticism of his own:

Ubiquitous? Yes.

Indisciplined? There are all sorts of auto drivers and we certainly have many of the indisciplined kind.

Licensed to thrill? Yes.

Licensed to kill? Ask any urban denizen who drives his own car and he’s very likely to blame the auto rickshaws for most accidents inside city limits. But is that really true?

Embarq (India) set out to answer this very question for the city of Mumbai. Analyzing data about road accident fatalities and serious injuries (obtained from Mumbai Traffic Police and the Traffic Training Institute, Byculla), they came up with the following observations and conclusions:

  • Total number of fatalities has been steadily on the rise since 2004, and has largely fluctuated over the course of the past decade (from 534 in 2004 to 651 in 2007, to 637 in 2010 and 404 as of Oct 2012)
  • Auto-rickshaws are a lower contributor to fatalities than motorcycles and cars. Their (normalized) share in total fatalities for 2011 stood at 7.4% (28 persons killed), compared to 34.4% for cars (130 fatalities), 29.7% for motorcycles (112 fatalities). Graph below.
  • Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle occupants (drivers/pillion) are the most vulnerable to road accidents leading to death. From 2011 data, of 563 fatalities, 323 were pedestrian fatalities (a whopping 57% share in total), 176 were motorcycle occupants (31.2% of total), and only 14 auto-rickshaw occupant fatalities. Graph below.

Link to Embarq’s blog post – A safety assessment of auto rickshaws in Mumbai.

Pic courtesy Embarq/

Pic courtesy Embarq/


Pic courtesy Embarq/

Pic courtesy Embarq/

Meet Sunita Chaudhary – Delhi’s First Female Rickshaw Driver

By | People | No Comments

India has women in the armed forces and in the police. So why not female auto drivers?

Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

Turns out there’s at least one of them, Sunita Chaudhary, in Delhi of all places. A tweet from @james_priya led me to the Red Rickshaw Revolution (a Vodafone Foundation initiative) which took me to their About Us page which had this neat little profile on Chaudhary.

Describe yourself in five words
Confident, Resourceful, Strong and Resilient.

What 3 things would you bring to a desert island other than food and water?
Courage, Experience and Culture.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Those who believe in themselves and work courageously, have success walk up to their feet.

Share a secret with us about yourself? / Tell us something about you that not many people know
I love how Shah Rukh Khan always has a happy-go-lucky personality

What makes you proud to be a woman?
I am proud to be a woman as a woman brings life to this world. A woman is powerful, if she chooses to be. She has many facets to her personality, she can be a goddess and she can be a destroyer.

If this piqued your interest, go read this fascinating Oneworld interview. Since her conservative family didn’t approve of working women, she left her hometown more than a decade ago… and came to Delhi. And one more thing – she has political aspirations.


Car sharing’s watershed moment

By | Car Sharing | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

If you’ve not been watching the North American car sharing market, you might have missed this news – I almost did. Car sharing and rent-by-the-hour pioneer was acquired by Avis for $500 million in Jan 2013. The nice folks at WRI Insights put things in perspective – what does the Zipcar exit mean for the car sharing industry trend? I cherry pick some of the insights from their article.

On the virtuous cycle of car sharing…

Car sharing has made an indelible mark on how we live in cities. Membership exceeds one in five adults in many urban neighborhoods from Montreal to San Francisco. Each shared vehicle in North America has been shown to replace nine to 13 personal cars, and reduce driving by an average of 44 percent – as members pocket the savings and choose to walk, bike, and take public transit.

Zipcar’s 760k members account for nearly 50% of global car-sharing members.

Although Zipcar’s 760,000 members account impressively for nearly half of global car-sharing members, the company has never turned an annual profit since its founding in 2000. After a successful IPO in April 2011 – another watershed moment – Zipcar’s stock initially rose to $31.50, but tumbled after continued losses, closing at just $8.24 before the Avis announcement. Zipcar had only two month’s operating cash on hand as of its September 2012 close.

On the explosion of peer-to-peer car sharing services.., UK-based WhipCar,, Wheelz and Car2Go are some of the players in this space.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) services allow individuals to share their personal cars directly with others. Imagine convenient, hourly access to virtually every car parked on-street. Most cars sit idle 95 percent of the time. P2P allows us to access that vast unused capacity and enables car owners to earn money by driving less – a win for the environment. P2P also eliminates the huge capital required for car-sharing fleet expansion, enabling scale-up like never before.

In other news closer home, Zipcar’s Indian copycat (Zoomcar) has launched in Bangalore with its first location in Brigade Gateway (Malleswaram).

Would car sharing services (peer-to-peer or otherwise) catch on in developing countries?

Social entrepreneurs are also paving the way in Asia, Africa, and Latin America – home to 74 percent of the world’s urban population but only 4.5 percent of its car-sharing members. Cities of India and China alone are expected to add 700 million new residents by 2030, most aspiring to join the burgeoning middle class. Will these cities sprawl with polluting cars?

Instead, imagine if a family’s first car becomes the one it shares with neighbors. Imagine if car sharing can gain prevalence before ownership becomes ubiquitous. Car sharing could help cities stay compact and walkable, and establish a sustainable culture of mobility.

Here’s the link to Clayton Lane’s original article on WRI Insights – Zipcar’s purchase by Avis: Car sharing success or failure?


Auto rickshaws and sustainable urban transport

By | Research | No Comments
Baap Ka Baap (that's Father of Father in Hindi)

Vicky Baba – Baap Ka Baap

Auto rickshaws were introduced in India in the 1950s. Seven decades later, urban denizens might love them or hate them but can surely not ignore them. Here’s how the numbers look like in the top four cities – over 1.2 lakh auto rickshaws in Mumbai and Bangalore, over 80,000 in Delhi, and approaching 1 lakh in Chennai.

Embarq (a division of the World Resources Institute) released a report in Feb 2012 analyzing the role of the auto-rickshaw industry in improving sustainable transportation. The Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) framework, one of the key approaches to promote sustainable urban transport, is the basis of the Embarq study. The ASI framework is based on three key strategies: (1) avoid unnecessary trips, (2) shift to more sustainable transport modes, and (3) improve performance in all modes. The report is chock full of insights and I’ve cherry-picked just a few for this blog entry.

The market size of auto-rickshaws in Indian cities currently varies from around 15,000 to 30,000 in Tier II cities (population between 1 and 4 million) to more than 50,000 in Tier I cities (population greater than 4 million). Based on population statistics, it is estimated that Tier I and II cities have 4 to 16 auto-rickshaws serving every 1,000 people on average.

Analysis of mode shares for select cities shows that auto-rickshaws serve between 10 and 20 percent of daily person trips made on motorized road transport modes. For these cities, auto-rickshaws constitute a small percentage (2-11%) of the total number of motor vehicles, but they account for a higher percentage of mode shares since they serve multiple users over the course of a day and night.

In Bangalore, for example, auto rickshaws represented 3% of motorized vehicles in 2005 but their mode share was 13%.

ASI sees “sustainability” in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving energy efficiency, reducing traffic congestion, and protecting public health and safety by promoting alternatives to the private car, among other strategies.

The findings from this study indicate that auto-rickshaw services in cities can help meet the objectives of the Shift strategy — of promoting public transport and reducing private motorization—based on the  following aspects:

  • First and last mile connectivity to public transport: Auto-rickshaw services, integrated as a feeder mode providing such connectivity, can complement public transport systems by ensuring that all parts of the city have easy access to public transport stations.
  • Door to door transport alternative to private motor vehicles: The door-to-door on-demand service provided by auto-rickshaws will ensure that transport needs requiring door-to-door connectivity, such as occasional trips to the airport or emergency trips for health care, can be met in cities without having to rely on private motor vehicles.

Link to Embarq report [PDF] “Sustainable Urban Transport in India: Role of the Auto-rickshaw Sector,”

An ethereal commuting experience

By | Commuting, Driver Chronicles, Taxis | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

A few years ago S needed to take an early morning flight. Normally he would book a Meru cab but this time his friend persuaded him to try the local independent cabbie (Ramesh).

The evening before his trip to the airport, he received a call from Ramesh.

“Hello sir, this is Ramesh. You had booked a taxi for tomorrow morning at 5am, to go to the airport, no?”


“Could you confirm your apartment details, sir?”

“It is <So and so Apts> on <Such and such Road>. Do you know this area?”

“Yes sir. I do. It is right opposite <Such and such Landmark>, right?”


“I will be ready outside your apartment complex by 4:45 am, sir.”

“Very good. Thanks.”


Next morning, S gets an SMS from Ramesh at 4:50am. “Reached your apartment. Waiting outside.”

Five minutes later, another SMS – “Waiting outside the elevator, sir.” As S stepped out of the elevator, he was politely greeted by a smartly dressed Ramesh. With a shimmering presence reminiscent of a Jeeves, the smiling Ramesh spoke “I thought you might need help with your luggage, sir.”


As S settled down in the back seat, he noticed that the interiors were strikingly clean. The shimmering presence spoke again, “Here are today’s newspapers, sir.”

S began to wonder if he was dreaming.

“Bottled water is also there, sir. On the left side, if you need it.”

S had started to pinch himself by now.

“Should I put on some music, sir? Or would you like to rest?”

S was wide awake now. He was still in the same cab. Ramesh was looking at S through the rear-view mirror.. politely awaiting his response.

S spoke up for the first time that morning.

“Are you for REAL?”


This story continues in Part 2.


South Bangalore Auto Commuter Survey

By | Commuting | No Comments

Do you live in HSR Layout, Koramangala, Jayanagar, JP Nagar, Indirangar, or any other neighborhood in South Bangalore? Do you occasionally (or regularly) take auto rickshaws for any of your personal or business destinations?

If you answered “yes” and “yes”, we are actively seeking your feedback. A short and sweet survey, and prospects of a better commuting tomorrow, await you here – South Bangalore Auto Commuter Survey.

Ah! Sweet commuting pain

By | About, Commuting | No Comments

Exactly a year ago, the last auto fare increase went into effect in Bangalore – Rs. 20 for the the first two kilometers and Rs. 11 for each subsequent kilometer. As expected, the news engendered outrage among Bangalore commuters especially since there was already significant dissatisfaction with the auto driver community. A petition to complaint against errant auto drivers was one of the calls to action. Blogger Aadisht wrote a thought-provoking piece in response – The Moral Hollowness of Auto Fare Outrage. A healthy and insightful conversation between various commuters started — in his blog comments. I present below the most interesting viewpoints.

Ajay writes… in the aftermath of last year’s auto fare increase and a citizen clamor for an auto complaint redressal system.

I think auto prices are low, so before I bought a car, I had a thumb-rule: up to Rs. 20 over the meter fare was acceptable, but I refused to entertain fares beyond that.

I lived close to central Bangalore for a year. Auto guys refused to go to my place from Koramangala at 6 in the evening. Not only that, they would be rude about it. Once, a driver agreed to come. Then close to the destination, the driver turned around and asked for more. My place was at the edge of my neighborhood and on a one-way which meant a half a kilometer extra drive for the auto guy. I was then accused of lying about where I live (to pay less). If this was a one-off, that’s one thing: similar things have happened to me and other people I know. It’s not just local/non-local: I speak Kannada and can pass off as a local in other circumstances.

In Bangalore, I think fare negotiations are only part of the problem. There’s a visceral dislike of auto guys’ behavior, with refusal to ply to places being a huge problem. I don’t see why you’d grudge an auto driver a few rupees extra, but rude refusals to ply (hit ratio: 1 in 5 would finally agree at an extra price) make you hate their guts after a while.

However, I do think that a lot of people do have a sense of entitlement about auto fares. This outrage is a bit much, and reminds me of arbit Hindu articles on this issue, where some uncle will complain about a Rs.3 increase in the minimum fare.

FWIW, after I started driving, I stopped using autos and moved to driving/radio cabs completely. I couldn’t stand being treated rudely.

Rakesh Agarwal’s solution is to eliminate the permit-raj.

As someone who knows a thing or two about autorickshaws, I can say that it is the permit-raj which is responsible for poor auto service across the country. Let there be fleet-autos, freedom to buy and sell as many autos as one wishes to, freedom to fix own fares by the companies and individual owners subject to some basic rules, and you will begin to see the change.

Sanjana hastens to add that we can’t paint all auto drivers with the same brush.

Thank you for saying this, and saying it so well! While there are ruthless auto drivers, there are also those who are genuine and honest. What this petition calls for is something not just non-systemic, but potentially damaging any further positive action which could be taken.

Aadisht replies to Ajay. And how.

As a business I have the right to reject customers. In fact, in my day job I frequently do. ;-) So again, I’d like to give the autowala the same right. I agree that the rudeness is a problem, but again, I don’t want the police to get involved in something that is an HR/ customer service issue. If fleet autos ever do take off I wonder if that would fix the rudeness. I’m not sure it would, though – in the search for well mannered and soft spoken employees, the taxi fleet would probably find it easier to attract talent than the the autorickshaw fleet. But I suspect things would improve.

I guess the sense of entitlement among customers and the rudeness of the autowalas has now gotten locked into a vicious cycle where autowalas and customers totally hate each other. I think the entitlement operates at multiple levels in fact – about fares, not tipping, refusing to consider peak hours/ peak routes as having an impact on prices, and in general the class divide.

But fixing this needs customer service training for drivers and some amount of empathy from customers – and realistic fares! Getting the police in is only going to make things worse in India, where the police acts as a blunt instrument of enforcing discipline.

Mumtaz chimes in.. on the sacredness of the meter fare MRP.

I might be completely off, but my problem simply put, is this.

When I walk into a store and buy for example a bar of chocolate, I pay an MRP. It is already specified on the product, and I am not paying for it based on how rich I look or which area the store is in. works that way for petrol or a bus ticket.

Similarly, there is a meter for a reason, it shows me how much i’m supposed to be charged. I don’t care if we seem like a bunch who can afford to pay the auto driver 20 bucks more or less. and like Ajay has mentioned previously, the attitude and refusing to ply even if the place is a bit off their comfort zone, is even more annoying.

What one chatty auto guy once told me, was that many autos are not owned by them. The owners expect a cut of the auto-guy’s profits, who usually cant afford to buy one himself. so he charges extra for a little bit of the money to go directly into their pockets and not being noted on the meter.

Anyway, I eventually bought an Activa so I wont have to have endless arguments every day before getting somewhere, i’m sure that’s not a solution for everyone though.

Aadish points out why he disagrees with MRP and makes some interesting points.

Well I’m opposed to MRPs too in principle. :-D I should mention that India is one of the very few countries that has an MRP concept. But apart from that here are some reasons why the MRP analogy doesn’t work for autorickshaws.

  1. When you buy the chocolate bar, the MRP is set by the manufacturer. In the meter, the MRP is set by the government.
  2. The chocolate bar is a standardised good. The auto ride is a service. Moreover, it’s a service that doesn’t scale very well. If you buy a chocolate bar, there are still 199 other bars for sale for other customers. The minute you get into the rickshaw, you prevent the autowala from taking on any other fares. So charging based on route or ability to pay is justified. Another analogy: as a freelance writer, I get Rs 3/ word from some publications and Rs 5/ word from others. I don’t insist that everyone pay Rs 4/ word, and neither does the publication which offers Rs 5/ word demand that I take 4/ word from them because the other publication pays that.
  3. Where to draw the line between goods and services isn’t always clear either. You get the same coffee in darshinis all over Bangalore, but you get charged different rates depending on area. That reminds me – you pay two different prices in TN in the same darshini depending on whether you sit in the AC or non-AC area.
  4. Incidentally, in my day job, we make industrial goods and we don’t have a standard rate even in those. So it isn’t JUST a service pricing thing.

Agree that buying an Activa isn’t a solution for everyone, but they have other solutions that don’t involve meddling in auto pricing: taking the bus or a call taxi.

Six months later, San points out some of the fallacies in Aadisht’s entrepreneur analogy.

Aadisht, your arguments defending Auto drivers completely disregarding Meters, simply doesn’t hold.

The flaws are in your parallels. Autorickshaws are not original Entrepreneurs.

An Auto Rickshaw is a Franchise. Franchise of a Brand – a yellow and black three wheeler, with a Meter. Just like a McDonalds outlet.

By driving a black and yellow vehicle with Meter, wearing a khaki uniform, they immediately get blessed with the identity of the Franchise – that brings them customers immediately.

Obviously with that Identity comes the associated expectation from the Customers. That they will run by the Meter. That this is a safe & civil person to ride with.

There is no ‘Differentiation’ one Auto Driver can provide, over the other. There is only one definition of the Service:

Taking a Passenger from Point A to Point B.

I would go with your arguments of Doctors and Entrepreneurs, and their flexibility to set their own prices, if the auto walla, didn’t choose the auto, but any ordinary vehicle, let’s say a second hand Nano.

And he walked up to each prospective passenger, explaining what he does, why he can be trusted, what price he would charge and why that price is justified.

THAT would be entrepreneurship, and then they can charge whatever they wish. And ply only on the route of their choice. That would be completely acceptable and respected.

Your solutions seem to be to “Avoid taking Autos”. If the system is broken, you justify all the good reasons why it should remain broken, and then turn away from it!

As passengers who do need to take Autos for unavoidable reasons – they are a part of Public Transport.

Let’s unanimously show our intolerance for the complete disregard for basic rules of the Auto Rickshaw System.

Only then the Govt. will get serious about making those Meters mandatory and tamper proof.

Only then the Unions will sit up to their responsibility to counsel the Auto Drivers rather than just make money from them.

Only then the few good and honest Autowallas will find dignity and respect in their profession.

Ah! sweet commuting pain indeed. In the coming weeks, we’ll share our own views on commuting pains and how we intend to address them — so ‘we’ (the commuters) and ‘they’ (the drivers) can peacefully coexist and thrive.

Link to Aadisht’s original post: The Moral Hollowness of Auto Fare Outrage.