Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Never Say No Guarantee

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

Several months ago, Solomon and I were in a meeting with a micro financing institution (MFI) and we heard this story of a auto rickshaw driver who doesn’t refuse a single trip. He’d regularly put in a 12 hour day and gross around Rs. 1200 – well above the median daily earnings for an auto driver. Later I followed up with the MFI leader – did he perchance have the contact details of that auto driver? Alas he didn’t. I filed the episode as hearing about a rare sighting of a unicorn.

The unicorn finally took shape yesterday… in the form of an auto driver in his early 30’s (let’s call him “G”). G speaks Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi fluently. He also reads and understands English. We conversed in Telugu during our 45 minute trip.

A quick glance at the auto license sticker told me that G lived in Rajarajeshwari. I remarked that he’s come a long ways from his “home base”. He nonchalantly replied I go wherever the “duddu” (money in Kannada) takes me.

“Hardly any of my rides are within Rajarajeshwari itself. I’m in the Domlur and Indiranagar area almost daily”, he continued.

“As it gets closer to evening, you probably refuse some customers if it takes you further away from Rajarajeshwari?” I asked.

“No. Never. I always go where the customer wants me to go. I drive 12 hours daily and I make Rs. 1500 minimum.”

“Wow! Really? That’s a lot more earnings than what most drivers make.” I told G.

G nodded sagely and added “Sometimes I drive a few hours extra also. On most days, I spend Rs. 300-400 on fuel and food so my take home is over Rs. 1100.”

After paying the fare and taking down his mobile #, I ruminated on how he was able to optimize two seemingly conflicting goals. The not refusing a customer directive introduces a geographic randomness yet he seems to be reaching home close to his usual time. I suppose he directionally aligns himself to a few key artery roads after 3pm to increase the chances of finding commuters headed in “his” direction.

I call G’s operating philosophy as the never say no guarantee. As we enroll drivers for our pilot testing phase, I can’t help wondering how many such drivers are out there in Bangalore.

Have you met any of this breed yet?

Next time you get into an auto and (assuming the driver isn’t anti-social) do ask him this question “Do you ever refuse a customer?”

If he answers “no”, give him your best My first look at Taj Mahal look and promptly note down his mobile# and please share with us – either on this blog or on our Facebook page or on Twitter (@mgaadi_blr).


An Ethereal commuting experience – Part 2

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

Pic courtesy

I might as as well finish the story I started to enumerate to Vishy. So the ‘S’ is me. The passenger in a KSTDC taxi.Very surprised by this experience. I saw KSTDC taxis around, hadn’t really called them for an onward trip to the airport, so I wanted to give them a try. I always took Meru or Easycabs, and if that failed, my office would organize a taxi from an small fleet operator nearby. Calling KSTDC was like calling VSNL dialup customer service in those days when Dialup was King; the most you could do is to get a fancy modem that could wringe out those few extra Kbs of speed on your telephone line. VSNL customer service was like “aah,  what is your problem? Ok. This is what you can do,… ” and then they will give you a solution that will work. Todays’ call centre services mostly have too much niceties before content, mostly they cant solve your problem (if you had a real one). My KSTDC call centre guy sounded like that, it was refreshing. No niceties, … but the tone of his voice I could make out he meant that the job is done…He said I would get an SMS with the details of the taxi and so on…. and so it goes. As you read in Part 1, I was feeling…. is this guy for real? Hey,… whats your story?

Ramesh has a very  unusual  story.  My usual question to any taxi or rickshaw driver is – Do you own the vehicle you drive? I usually find better service, better maintained vehicles in most cases when there is ownership. This ride was exceptionally good, he was brisk, but not speeding more than necessary, it felt like he had an extra pair  of eyes under the car chassis. He seemed to know every small undulation on the road and rolled over graciously over them. Hardly  feeling  any jerk while driving. He drove as though he had two eggs embedded under his feet when he was pushing those pedals, any sudden push might break those eggs… I assumed right, that this guy owns his car. He did, but he said his wife took a loan from her bank to finance his vehicle. How come? I asked. The story is – his wife works for a reputed software firm. He met his wife some years ago in their village, she belongs to a different caste, but both the families made hell for them and he could not live with his parents, as he encouraged her to finish her college (much to the  Chargin of his parents). They moved out on their own, she finished her college and learnt programming ( rattled a list of programming languages she knew). She had taken a break from work for a year  because  they had a baby and she is now back to work. He has paid off his loan, and sometimes rents his vehicles to other drivers occasionally, when  there is an urgent need. He  doesn’t  do night shifts too often, unless there is a prior commitment.

Ramesh plans to buy another vehicle and get his cousin from the village. He has dreams for his kid. He believes there is a discipline in eating, sleeping and habits while driving that keeps one fit and free from accidents caused by fatigue. He also seems to know how to maintain his vehicle in great condition, so that it is reliable.  To me he seemed that in his job as a driver, he is as good as it can get in a place like India. He looks to me like  a person who has a story, doing his best to make his life work.

My commuting experience was great, five Stars to him and his well maintained car. This interaction made me see that he is not just a nameless operator, driver but  a person who plays his role for the time being. He has your life in his hands. Taking a vehicle out in Indian roads is potentially dangerous, conflict ridden and threat to life and  property. Its got everything to do with the driver and drivers out there. Not all people who drive, and become drivers, get on this path, even for a while. There are somethings innate, people come with those  attitudes  that makes them take those decisions; but a lot is systemic. So what is so systemic about driver behavior  and a great  commuting  experience ??


India’s newest auto rickshaw has four wheels and..

By | Autos | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

India’s newest auto rickshaw has four wheels and is called a quadricycle. It’s a covered vehicle (with a hard top and doors) that resembles a cross between a Mahindra (1st generation) Reva and a Tata Nano with the soul of an auto rickshaw.

Why a tongue-twister of a name? If it has four wheels, it should be called a car, a van, or a SUV right?

The answer lies in regulatory classification. A car/SUV/van (for private or public use) can be driven anywhere on Indian roads – inside and outside city limits. The government on Wednesday (May 22) allowed quadricycles to ply within city limits as modes of public transport. The government has also cleared the proposed 450 kg weight for quadricycles, much lighter than the earlier proposed 700 kg, and said the new vehicle class will have to meet the European Union safety norms.

Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

The sole evangelist of the quadricycle is the market leading manufacturer of auto rickshaws – Bajaj. The company CEO (Rajiv Bajaj), which dubs itself as an anti-car company, is ecstatic because their investments in the RE60 quadricyle (showcased since early 2012) will start bearing fruit and they’ll have first mover advantage. There are all kinds of competitive overtones (especially from Tata Motors) in this Rediff article. Early pronouncements from Bajaj suggest that the RE60 might hit the roads within a matter of months.

Bajaj sold 2,26,131 three wheelers in the financial year ending March 2013 which represents 51% marketshare of the passenger three-wheeler market.

Powered by a 200 cc petrol engine with a top speed of 70 kilometre per hour and a mileage of 35 kilometers per litre, it’s expected to be a substantial upgrade over the 3-wheeler auto. The operative word being expected.

Will auto rickshaw drivers bite? This recently produced video (which features interviews with several auto rickshaw drivers) yields diverse opinions. More on that in a subsequent post.



Auto rickshaws and tipping

By | Autos | No Comments

[Updated (May 17): In my friend’s story below, I had incorrectly attributed lack of change as one of the reasons for tipping. Added emphasis to the updated verbiage below.]

Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

The inflow of stories relating to auto rickshaws has increased ever since my friends learned what we are trying to do at mGaadi. One of my friends shared the following story recently.

With my 6 year old daughter in tow, I hailed an auto one evening. As per my customary routine, after agreeing to our destination I asked the driver if he would go ‘by meter’. Seemingly indignant at the suggestion, he sullenly replied yes. The meter showed Rs. 67 after we reached the destination.

The ride being largely uneventful and in line with my policy of tipping drivers who don’t ask for above meter fare, I intended to give him a 100 Rupee note and ask for 20 back (i.e. 13 Rupees tip). Since the traffic was heavy on the street and we needed to cross, I requested him to cross the road (a distance not exceeding 40 meters). He rudely refused.

I was livid. In an instant, the tip vaporized. I systematically searched the contents of my purse and came up with the exact change.

So here are my questions to you (readers and urban commuters):

  1. Do you tip auto rickshaw drivers? 
  2. If  yes, is it ALL the time? or only when service is excellent?
  3. How do you define “excellent service” by an auto driver?

Please leave your answers in the comments. Thanks.