|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!