Grandma's Tales

January 30, 2007

Auto, auto! – 4

Filed under: Auto — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:21 pm

swami (Comment by swami) wrote this in response to my latest auto whine.
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 a decent driver (working to earn the honest buck) and other associated service levels. Thoughts?
Here they are swami.
A properly functioning auto, a decent driver – they must be around among the 50 thousand or so autos rattling the bones out of the Chennai population – but most of us haven’t met them.
The current fares are as follows. Rs. 14 for the first 2 kms and 6 for every extra km. These rates are already in force. But not enforced. Autos have been given 6 months to get their electronic meters going. In the meantime, each one has been given a printed card showing the difference in fares. There are also helplines. But there is no way to determine the distance. The automan just will not accept your measurements. And the fares thereof. You talk to them about the fare- cards and the standard answer is: “Ask the guy who printed them to drive you for those fares. Not me.”
This evening I asked the automan to take me to the beach which is exactly 2 kms away. I know because I had checked it while driving the car. The auto driver at the stand demanded Rs. 35. I said, “No, thank you,” and walked away. He began to abuse me. You don’t want to know what he said.
Yesterday, a guy saw me dressed in finery, guessed I was in a hurry to reach somewhere and demanded an exhorbitant amount. After rejecting three, I gave in. Did I say auto guys were actor-politicians (previous post)? I hang my head in shame. They are actor-politician-psychologists. Their capabilities are being wasted on Chennai roads.
Are the rates fair? Perhaps not. Then the best thing to do is to go on protest, represent and come to an agreement with the authorities. Not blackmail/abuse the public. Why did they accept the revised the fares? Because they know the fares will never be implemented. Please read these pages in six months’ time.
The guy I hired this morning had an electronic meter fixed. I asked him why it wasn’t functioning. He said he had six months to do it. I said it didn’t need six months to fix the meter. He mumbled something like, “The wires are gone.”
Competition from share autos? Not really. Since they have more space, they charge more. You need to be a group. If you are alone or there are two of you, you have to wait. These autos cruise along soliciting customers.
Vans and call taxis? Their fares have gone up. You have to book in advance, they turn up late and sometimes they don’t turn up at all. Happened to me. They cost roughly double of what the auto fare would put you back by.
Autos are cheaper (though their fares are arbitrary and illegal) compared to other modes of private travel. They are available at all times, except may be midnight. If it is just two of you, isn’t it better to hire an auto to the railway station rather than pay a call taxi?
The auto guys know all this. And they demand the fares far in excess of what they are allowed. Again, my argument: I pay you what you ask for, if it is not too over the top. But can you assure me a reasonably smooth ride in return?
This morning my automan crossed the signal on First Main Road, Gandhi Nagar on the pedestrian crossing while people were rushing across and went into a one-way street on the opposite side. He almost collided into an oncoming auto. We were saved by a whisker. My screams were of no avail.
This is demand outstripping supply. What we need is a topnotch public transport system. Air-conditioned buses/vans at all points of the city, on all main roads and major streets. Increase the fares, but assure us of safe, comfortable travel to work and back. How come this is never a poll promise for the poor-friendly governments?


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?”

October 6, 2006

Auto! Auto! 2

Filed under: Auto — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:48 pm

When I hire an auto, I agree to pay the amount demanded if it is not too obscene. But I have one condition. I want a noise-free ride. If you lived in Chennai you would know what I mean.

Most of the autos now run without their silencer. Not that you could have put a baby to sleep in them earlier, but without the silencer the “tuk, tuk, tuk, tuk” grate is simply unbearable. It is a loud, tinny sound that reaches deep into your head and starts an echo. It is terrible. You hear it at 11 pm when the guys go home and at 4 am when they ferry their first passenger. Some of the drivers themselves complain of the noise. And I caught a woman plugging her ears with cotton balls as soon as she stepped into the auto.

Why do they do it? Automan’s reason: “Drivers around me have no clue to handling their vehicles! I need to make noise to get them out of the way!” Coming from him this is rich. Most auto drivers would easily qualify for the job of circling inside the globe in a circus.

Guessed reason#1: How will people in top floors of multi-storeyed apartments know there is transport waiting to take them to their destination?

Guessed reason# 2: Removing the silencer is a sure way to save fuel. The silencer blocks the exhaust from releasing freely. The dirty air backflows, pushes into the engine and overloads it. The more the engine is pushed, the more fuel it needs. Autos cannot afford to waste fuel. So out goes the silencer leaving the engine to make a racket the minute it is switched on. ( If this is crap, I did not invent it.)

I am on the auto warpath. I make my deal and refuse to board if the vehicle makes “the noise”. I will step in only after a demo. You should see their faces when I walk away. Most times I am a no-bargain customer. At all times I am a no-nonsense one.

I have a sneaking feeling. If all of us refuse to pay for a ride that would make us partially deaf, automen will start thinking about withdrawing this non-verbal onslaught.

Auto! Auto! 1

Filed under: Auto — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:12 pm

Chennai auto-rickshaws are again in the news. They are always in the news but from time to time they get a prime time slot on TV news channels. And why not? the 35 to 50 thousand automen in Chennai are a colourful lot. You cannot talk about them in two-minute clips. They deserve a full-length movie.

A majority of them indulge in every malpractice you can think of. And some that you cannot even imagine. Those at the auto-stand charge more than those that are running. [Guessed reason: they can fleece one customer in a hurry, and spend the rest of the day idling under a tree.]

The charges generally are three times the official one. [Stated reason: They were revised in 1994. After that fuel prices have gone up many times.]

They take in 6 to 7 passengers on a trip.The rugular ones, not the share autos. [Stated reason: “The passengers prefer this, since what they pay me is still less than hiring two autos.”]

They expect exact directions. GPS-like, you should tell them the spot marked X on which you will get off. As you do with the waiter taking your order, you should get them to repeat it. If you don’t, be prepared for a verbal onslaught (VO).

VO #1 “You said area A and this is area B! This is cheating! You have to pay me another 50 bucks! Do you know the cost of petrol?” He says a lot more in Tamil which I’d rather not translate.

VO#2 This starts at about three-fourths of the distance. “If I had known it was this area I would never have agreed to this “savaari”. (Not everyone can live in the Raj Bhavan area, man!) Now I have to go all the way back without a passenger. You didn’t give me proper instructions. Now give me return fare!” Again a torrent of unprintable abuse.

VO #3 “Look at the roads! Are these roads? They are just potholes! My vehicle is going to be damaged! The owner will not pay for the repairs. It is all your fault, better pay for the repairs! (But, dear automan, I didn’t make the potholes!)

Mr. Lakshmi Narain, President, Auto Passengers’ Association has been waging a lone battle against these auto-cratic guys. He agrees the fares have to be raised to match petrol/diesel prices. But after that he wants autos to be fitted with tamper-proof meters. None of the autos in the city has a meter. The last time meters were fitted, they quickly went “out of order” and couldn’t be repaired.

Once the meters are fitted, Mr. Lakshmi Narain wants the cops to check them periodically and if found faulty or dead, cancel the driver’s license. He also wants the owners to forfeit their trade permit if their vehicles run with tampered meters. No properly working meter, no license. Should work.

The government has promised to look into the matter of increasing fares after the local body elections. Applying brakes to their arbitrary ways would have been an easier task 12 years ago. Today automen have formed themselves into unions. Their numbers are large and they have strong bargaining powers. I hear they want a minimum fare of Rs. 15 and god knows how much for each km after that. If this is allowed, will they give us a guarantee that they will charge according to the meter and give the passengers an abuse-free ride?

Make a guess.

Create a free website or blog at