An effete ‘Auto’nomy

A long queue of auto rickshaws in Mumbai.
Image source: Google images

Having recently landed in India, I have been touring, shopping and helping myself to Indian food, specifically Indian chaat items a lot. On one such Saturday, my sister and I having decided to indulge ourselves shopping, stood at the crossroads, unsuccessfully trying to flag down auto-rickshaws, the drivers one after the after, systematically, vehemently refusing to ply the distance. Baffled by their behaviour, we got into conversation with another bystander also wanting to go to the same destination, after which we decided to share an auto for lack of willing ones. After about four more of them refusing to take us on as fares, when the next one stopped, deciding to take matters into our own hands, the three of us simply boarded the auto without disclosing where we wanted to travel to. As expected, we got into a heated argument with the driver when he refused to even start his auto to drop us at our destination which was only about 10 minutes away, maybe even less. The vehicle stood stationary as arguments and counter-arguments took place, the three of us teamed up against the lone man refusing to back down, who was citing excuses of an empty gas tank and the gas pump being out of the way, even as his gas indicator showed a half fun gas tank. Amidst threats of complaints to the security and RTO, realizing that we wouldn’t relent, he finally drove us to the security checkpoint where we made our complaints and the security officer meekly instructed him to drop him at the required location. The furious driver refused. We finally de-boarded, refused to pay and noted his vehicle number, planning to make a complaint.

I have known people who like to incite others into arguments just for the heck of it. I am not one of them; I do not enjoy confrontations.  But such individuals who drive their professions into a state of decadence disgust me. This was not an isolated incident. Auto-rickshaw drivers today have become a brazen lot, no longer counting themselves as public transport, picking and choosing destinations at will, leaving harried customers running around looking for other options. I know auto and taxi drivers, who have a set of fares that they drive for and refuse to take any other customers. Such drivers get their daily income through these 3-4 set jobs through the day. But the fact of the matter is, that makes them paid personal chauffeurs, not public transport. Some auto and taxi drivers are booked for pick up and drop of children from school, yet others have their fares lined up for the day through cell phones even before the day starts. Why ply the roads then? Why not just be known as a personal chauffeur vehicle then? Whatever happened to serving the public?

I recollect, in 2010, there was a drive against this brassy system where people refused to use autos for one day every month. Radio stations and jockeys encouraged people to call in with auto numbers who would refuse to do their job. Good Samaritans volunteered to drop and pick up people along their line of work during those days providing their vehicle make, description and numbers on the radio for any customer who would be tuned in. The initiative led to a whole bunch of conversations with the union leaders and their management, and the entire city was gung-ho about it. But it appears that somewhere along the way, the movement lost steam, because we seem to be right back where we started.

Customers are not insensitive. They understand the needs of another human being. Taking breaks for lunch, to take a quick nap and such is completely understood. But simply touring the roads, looking for people who would want to travel long distances and hence pay more is completely ridiculous. In some cases, they refuse long distance fares because they can get their daily income through a whole line of minimum fares in the locality itself. And the menace is not limited to refusing fares. Overcharging for fares citing night-rates even when its early evening and there’s ample daylight, refusing to use the meter in certain localities are just more examples of this nuisance. The auto-rickshaw system has become a heartless autonomy indeed and needs desperate measures to curb the insolence fast growing within the system. How does one fix things then? Does complaining to the RTO help? How does the common man, who relies on public transport, get a solution from this menace? How does one pass on the message, that autos are public transport? That plying people is their job? That it doesn’t pay to be dishonest and plow shortcuts through one’s own profession? Is this a problem isolated to Mumbai or do other cities see this too? Have you faced this? What do you suggest?

I am not proud of our argument and our refusal to pay, I might not do it again, but I am not ashamed of it either. If auto drivers stick to their ways resorting to such impudence, the general public will be forced to use worse means of making them mend their ways. Your thoughts?

I would love to hear your views!

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indu chhibber

No Deepa this malady is not limited to Mumbai alone Delhi also has the same scourge,the drive that you talk of was certainly effective…but again for how long?


Tough question. Autos are public transport—their fares are preset and they're allowed to carry the official black and yellow paint.
But, in the interest of fairness, CNG stations aren't that many, and autodrivers wait in line for hours sometimes—pushing their autos ahead because they are out of CNG before reaching the pump—and the government increases the fares once in a while, mostly out of touch with the market. So the driver is forced to choose fares where he makes money but doesn't spend as much fuel—some prefer the free-driving long-distance fares, whereas others prefer taking you tiny distances where the minimum metered fare gets them a bigger profit.
I agree that legally they're required to take you wherever you want to go, but you'll often find that autodrivers invent excuses when they're forced to go somewhere—if the area is not safe or if they won't get return fares, both of which are real problems.
Finally, I agree that the autodrivers are breaking the law when they refuse a fare and we should report them, but we shouldn't dismiss the mitigating factors.


I thought Mumbai was fairly out of this auto menace but looks like this city is also being swallowed into this quicksand. Such attitude is rampant in the southern cities like Hyd, Bangalore and Chennai. In B'lore, it is particularly in the outskirts where the rickshaw guys charge double the minimum charge for the minimum distance. Sadly, the only way I opt for is to minimize their usage and rely more on own vehicle or buses. But I do feel handicapped when I need to travel a short distance on a route that does not have a good bus connectivity.
I am actually unable to understand their reluctance when in fact the rates of the meter have been directly proportional to the fuel hike each time.


following you now 🙂


Oh, we have it in Bangalore too. I did a post on auto behavior in Bangalore that was published by DNA. They are mostly rogues.

C Suresh

That strikes a chord with almost every one of us. In Chennai, apparently, most autos are reputed to be owned by policemen – which makes it next to impossible to get them to toe any sort of line.


awesome ! Deepa you are back.. 😀 too happy to see your blog.. 🙂


I hate this auto rickshaw system. In 2002, when I had shifted to Delhi and didn't have a car, I remember the pain of getting autos. Once I asked a auto driver as to why they are fleecing the customer. He said, the amount of money they pay to buy the auto is double the actual cost. That is because they can't get loans from banks. So the agents help them in getting an auto and charge huge sums. They get annoyed and know they can't do anything to the dalal, police etc, the easy way out is to fleece the customer. It is an endless cycle.

Our public transport system is a mess. We don't have good quality local buses, trains/metros that people can use. Unless the public transport system is streamlined, we will continue to have problems with autos.


I always had an impression that Delhi auto drivers were the worse but after staying in Chennai, I realised that they are very very kind. Chennai auto drivers are the worse you can ever get. Its better to walk in sun rather than take a auto there.


I would have agreed with you except there was another petrol pump much closer to where we were compared to the one that he was going to. When we told him about it, he said they only have petrol there not CNG. I would have kept quiet at that, but my sister who works at a company which supplies CNG and PNG quickly caught on to his fib and told him that it does provide CNG because she works with the pumps in that area. He mumbled something and still refused to take us. I agree that there are genuine reasons for auto drivers sometimes to refuse fares, but how do you identify the genuine ones from the ones who are simply stating useless excuses? At the end of the day, it is these drivers who are spoiling the name of the community just like a few misguided ones bring a whole community/religion down.


Is there no way to fix this? No agencies or offices you can complain to? Cant we provide the auto numbers to someplace which can enforce rules?


But isn't that working around the solution? Mumbai and Indians in particular have become resilient. We put up with a lot of stuff simply because we have gotten used to this way of life. I do not want to be resilient – not for such things. There should be a way to solve this. I'm like you – unable to understand their reluctance. For a place that needs traffic reduction, we should be relying more on public transport. But if this is how public transport will end up as, then what other options do we have?


Thank you! Grateful 🙂


The funny part is, just this morning after 4 auto drivers refused to drop me at the bus stop close by, when the 5th one finally agreed to take me on as a fare, I felt that he was an angel! Whereas he was simply doing his job. Our expectations have gone so low that now when someone does their job, we think that's great!


Its ridiculous. In Bangkok, there are multiple taxi associations – more like competitors. Color coded. Keeps them in line because once you have a bad experience with one taxi company you tend to leave the company itself and opt for a different one. This way, they at least have to work good on their customer service, lest they go out of business. I think India needs something like that too. Why only autos, throw in the same concept for taxis too. Take it one step ahead for BEST service who now boast of broken windows and successive breakdowns!


Thanks Gayathri! 🙂


Honestly, they need competition to keep them doing their job well. Like the taxi system of Bangkok. If there's a complete autonomy, they don't really care, because they know that we as consumers have no other options. But bring in competition, and they would have to fight to keep their jobs. Its chaos. The system sucks too so you can't blame the auto drivers entirely but then there's individual mentality too!


Isn't there any mode through which we can raise concerns against this system? Noting down rogue auto numbers and stuff?


Auto drivers a re a special breed and they are the same in any Indian city. Unfortunate.


it's the same situation everywhere. on top of that all the autos have tampered meters. no point in complaining to the traffic police because we know how honest they are. wasn't aware of that 2010 initiative. sounds cool, may be, we need to come up with something similar again.

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