Ah! Sweet commuting pain

By March 1, 2013 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 change.org 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.


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