Auto Shun Kar

The thoughtful bloggers at Metrobloggers urge the government to take stringent action on renegade auto drivers who fail to use recalibrated meters. Some of comments also urge a complete boycott of Chennai Autos till they “improve”.

As I stated in my earlier post here, a one-sided rant against the “disciples of Baasha” does not make for a meaningful debate. My intent here is to foster a slightly more thoughtful and nuanced discussion on this. Clearly, the present system does not work. Standalone Meter regulated fares will never work. They have never worked in the past in Chennai. Auto drivers will always find a way to “heat” them up. So it is important to realize that there are 3 forces at play in this game. (The game is defined as the “negotiation” between prospective commuter and the auto driver)

  1. The fare that the commuter is willing to pay
  2. The fare that the auto driver is willing to expect

One of the problems is that the commuter does his calculations based on

  1. An assumption that the auto driver is anyway likely to state an inflated fare
  2. The amount he can afford based on his average earnings etc
  3. An approximate idea of general economic inflation, government approved meter rates etc

While the auto driver does his calculations based on

  1. The percentage of the fare that he will, in any case, have to pay as “mamool” to corrupt policemen
  2. His understanding of inflation and prices of petrol etc
  3. His estimation of
    1. how well off the commuter is
    2. how urgent is the commuter need
  4. His desire to lead a life at a level above that of slum-level existence.

In this sort of an unbalanced game, I am just wondering if we should apply a free market model to autos. Of course, we will have to solve the problem of police ownership and cartels, but I think, a variable pricing model could work moderately better than what we have today. We accept variable pricing in a lot of situations – property rates, airline tickets, tatkal railway tickets etc. So how about a three tiered model of

  • basic autos – with low end fares
  • Mid-tier autos
  • Luxury autos

The numbers of each one of them will be determined by actual demand. Further, a series of call-centres (kind of like the Call-taxi model) that log all auto journeys (start distance, end distance) and also monitor the legality of the meters. Auto drivers should also rotate between the three tiers to make the system fair for everybody. Where the government can play a role is to pay some sort of a monthly stipend to auto drivers that will go a long way to improve their lot and potentially reduce their desperation to cheat and fleece. How will the government pay for this? We could consider a per fare tax on mid-tier and luxury autos that the government earns.

Of course, this system could have its own problems. But lets talk about them and try to fix them.

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15 Comments

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  1. Im not sure the Mid and High level Autos will have too much of a market. Taxis are bigger, more comfortable, less noisy and air conditioned.

    And what will be the difference between the 3? How will this ‘rotation between the 3 classes’ work? Who owns the vehicles in this picture?

  2. pricing will have to be such that luxury autos are still cheaper than non-ac taxis.

    rotation should be handled by the central admin (logging sytem) with very little human intervention

    Vehicle ownership should be individual driver – not cartels or proxy owners for this to work well

  3. Hahahaha! Bus system! Damn Karthik, you’re a funny guy.

    Ashok, our current system is this:
    Rate depends on distance travelled.

    And this simple system doesn’t work. No hope for a complicated system.

    1. hi.

      auto fares must take into account two things: distance travelled and time taken. as of now, customers are willing to pay only for distance travelled, which is wrong. a 2 km journey from gemini to spencers takes 8-10 mins whereas the same 2 km journey from gemini to kodambakkam bridge takes 20-25 mins during peak hour traffic…

  4. Well, the auto system seems to work just fine in places like mumbai and delhi…chennai is the only place where u face these problems.

    So maybe the problem lies elsewhere and not just the fares.

  5. Exactly my point. We continue to use the same one dimensional reasoning – we assume the system works fine in Mumbai while forgetting other factors about why there is a problem in Chennai. Fares is probably just one such factor

  6. Well every group of people have a political party that supports them that ends up as a part of the ruling coalition. So they use this support to do whatever they please.

  7. Fares is definitely not a factor. The cost of living in Mumbai and Delhi is no different from Chennai and the auto drivers seem to be quite happy there with their fares.

    Maybe its just the plain ol money minded stingy attitude of the average tamil. 🙂 Ducks.

  8. does any one know from when chennai stopped charging based on meter (if at all they charged any time – may be 15/20 years back), does any one here have used an auto in chennai 2o years back and were the meters running? help appreciated

  9. Dear Friends,

    I have recently moved from Bangalore to Chennai and I find it too difficult to adjust here mainly because of the auto drivers excess fare!
    I would be happy if some of you could join me in organising a protest against these autodrivers here,by refusing to travel in autorikshwas until they put their meters running.Please join hands with me.Interested citizens could mail me – roisroy@gmail.com, so that we could plan and execute it at the earliest.

    Thanks
    Roy

  10. In Bangalore, there are other issues, along with doctored meters, refusing to ply to the requested area. They have a list of areas that they want to ply passengers to and don’t you dare ask for any other area. I have a fixed flight plan for my auto and you have to adjust accordingly. Then, there are those auto drivers who look through you when you want to wave down an auto and those who stop and just shake their heads and push off. They use the passenger’s time and money to chat with their friend by taking a mobile break by the side of the road or to fill up gas at a very, very busy and crowded gas station.
    Then, the final showdown on reaching the destination that they don’t have the change, refuse to give back the correct change, swallow wholesome rupees, but create a scene calling you every name under the Sun, when you run short of even 50ps.
    Every time I go to Bangalore, I end up fighting with auto drivers. Several autos now have ‘electronic meter’ which is supposed to be ‘un-tamperable’. But we Indians have this genius for proving the world wrong in such matters. Some meters jump every two rolls of the wheel. Unless the person is aware of when / where the meter should start rolling after the minimum distance of 2 km, they are literally taken for a ride.

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