Grandma's Tales

January 27, 2007

Auto, auto!

Filed under: Auto,Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 11:28 pm

The new auto rates came into force yesterday, 26 January. At least they should have. I hired an auto today (27 January) to see if everything was in place. For the 2 +1/2-km ride to the office I should be shelling out around 20 bucks. I pay Rs. 30. I hoped to gently inform the auto driver about this and get him to reduce the rates. Ok, don’t laugh so much.
I asked the guy if he knew about the new rates. He said he had seen it in the papers. So, could I pay according to the new rules? He began to laugh. Good comedy, he said. I said I was not joking. Nor was I, he said.
Chennai auto drivers are actor-politicians, just like those who govern us. The guy said, “I haven’t seen the exact rate calculations. I haven’t received any information or a card with the details. So I don’t know how distances are calculated.” If he had received the instructions he would no doubt have said, “I haven’t studied them in detail. I need to do that before I answer any questions.”
“How about the meter?” I asked. “Won’t you get caught?”
He shrugged. “Most autos are owned by policemen and politicos. Why do you think autos are never booked for traffic violations?” Mmm… this is unusual candour. He realised he’d talked too much. Quickly he added, “Who will pay the lakhs I need to get a permit? The cost of owning an auto? There’s no way we can have a meter. No way we’ll charge official rates.”
And why should he, as long as we are ready to pay?
My problems with the autos (refer to previous posts on this) don’t end there. Last week the automan I had the misfortune to hire was a well-connected one. He had a mobile phone choking with numbers. Numbers of people who would die if they didn’t have his voice sounding in their ears. During the 10-minute ride he had 5 calls. For the first three calls, he stopped the vehicle at the kerb and engaged in prolonged conversations. I protested. I said if I knew the ride would take me half an hour to reach home, I would have walked. Walking would take about the same time, may be less.
For the next two calls, he didn’t stop. He fished the ringing instrument out of the pocket, held it to his ear with one hand and drove the auto with the other. I begged him to stop and complete the talk.
At the end of the fifth, I said, “Why don’t you switch it off?”
He turned 180* to look me in the eye. “Look in front!” I shouted. He said calmly, “If I don’t take calls, I lose business. Will you pay?”

Now, hiring an auto means getting a lengthy questionnaire answered.
[1] Will you take me to the place I want?
[2] How much will you charge? (Not a single auto has a working meter.)
[3] Does the vehicle make a phut-phut-phut noise? (What a childish question, said one automan.)
[4] Does your meter work properly? (Stupid!)
[5] Do you have a cellphone? Is so, will you switch it off during the time of the ride?
[6] Do you have gas/diesel/petrol? Will you stop half-way at a petrol bunk and ask me to pay for it?
Actually, at the end of this rather extended conversation/grilling the automan and I should consider ourselves friends or sworn enemies depending on our humour quotients.
Some of them are genuinely surprised by all this talk. At least a couple of guys cruised by and said, “My auto doesn’t make that noise. Want to hop in?” Bliss!
Anyway, my argument generally clinches the issue. “I am not haggling over the charge. Shouldn’t you give me a comfortable ride to my destination in return?”


  1. How true.Looks like this is my story.

    Comment by Rajesh Kumar — January 29, 2007 @ 4:12 pm | Reply

  2. This is a story of 69 out of the 70 lakh population in Chennai, Rajesh. I’m leaving out the 1 lakh because those are the owners who smugly reap the harvest of an inadequate public transport system.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — January 29, 2007 @ 8:34 pm | Reply

  3. I heard auto business was affected by call-taxi’s, share van’s and such. And that auto drivers weren’t kings as they used to be. Did I hear wrong?

    Don’t the share-auto, share-van types work out better?

    Also, do you think the current meter rates in Chennai are fair? I don’t know what it is now. But when I was there (about 6 yrs ago) they worked out to Rs. 3.50 per km. And I thought it was too low if you get a good auto ride – which of course, was an impossibility. But then, I think when fixing rates for auto, you have to assume that it is a properly functioning auto with an decent driver (working to earn the honest buck) and other associated service levels.


    Comment by swami — January 29, 2007 @ 9:25 pm | Reply

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