Why I Still Swear By Auto Rickshaws

Those who know me, know me as the fiercely stubborn woman has refused to learn driving (I actually did, just never got my license) and relies on public transport for her daily commute – buses and local trains in Bombay, buses, rickshaws and 6-seaters (yes I used them too) in Pune and rickshaws in Bangalore.

The reasons are many, but the most important one  is that I will not be responsible for adding one more pollution emitting, badly driven vehicle to our already messed up roads. That is also one of the reasons I continue to resist the Olas, Ubers and Merus of the world.

Coming back home this afternoon in a rickshaw, I found myself surrounded by taxis at a particularly long signal. There were at least 10 taxis, each running the air-conditioning and ferrying just 1 person (but of course!). The 120 seconds I had to wait there were unbearable, as waves of heat emanating from the air-conditioned cars hit me from all around. The rickshaw driver cursed softly under his breath and launched into a litany of how these cabs were not only stealing their business, but making it so difficult for them to navigate the roads, for they are almost always aggressive drivers who want to make as many trips as possible and bully the tiny rickshaws out of the way by sheer force of honking, speeding and pushing the smaller vehicles to the side.

Of all the cabs I’ve taken, I have few memories of a good driver. Most of them didn’t wait for the signal to turn green and of course they weren’t respecting any lane discipline rules. Let’s not even talk about the speed at which they drove. So here we are, constantly cursing the rickshaw drivers for being bad drivers, not respecting traffic rules, refusing to go to certain destinations and asking for more than the meter rate. Most people I know refuse to commute by auto citing these reasons and they hail the newly arrived cabs as the lifeline connecting Bangaloreans to their workplace, enabling the economy to push forward by ferrying thousands of hapless citizens from point A to point B seamlessly.

And yet, cab drivers regularly drive rashly with no respect for traffic rules, contribute to the increasing congestion of roads and air pollution, resort to surge pricing during peak hours, often refuse a fare when the destination is inconvenient, call multiple times for directions despite the fact that they are equipped with GPS devices and have been known to stalk, molest and rape female passengers. And you still think that they are a solution to the problems created by the auto-rickshaws?

Image Credits: Sketch India
Image Credits: Sketch India

Call me stubborn, but I’m still going to walk out of my house tomorrow morning, up to the main road and hail down a rickshaw which will cost me 60% of what an Ola Mini does. The auto driver will not have my phone number and won’t know where I stay. I won’t have to spend my already busy morning talking to cab drivers and giving directions. I will definitely not be thinking of sharing a cab with a bunch of strangers to economise during surge hours. And should the auto driver get weird, my yell for help will be easily heard.

So till our cities actually implement a real public transport system with buses and metros plying regularly and connecting the different corners of the city (quel rêve), I shall continue to be thankful to the little cockroaches providing a convenient and reasonably cost effective way for me to get to work.

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