If you have never been in an autorickshaw before you have to go. One part like Barney Oldfield Speedway ride at Great America (only this is real), another part like a digestive system refresh after a long meal, these vehicles are a ubiqutous part of most Indian metropolis. Bangalore has a fair share of them. Most can seat 3 (with the driver in front) and in most cases seat more than 5 (I can vouch for 5 in a rickshaw personally).
I had to travel a short distance to meet a friend so I figured I would take an “auto” as its referred to here. The best part of the ride actually is the look on the faces of those traveling on it for the first time. The even better part is the “haggling” you have to do upfront to decide on the price or location – before you get confused as to the location let me explain.
Either you go where you want to go at the price they want you to pay OR you go to the location they want to go at the price you are willing to pay. Makes sense right?
All auto’s here have a meter which supposedly displays the fare and is kept up to date. The rise in fuel prices however have not reflected on the fares for a long time probably so most drivers prefer to negotiate a price upfront. I.e. how much will you have to pay above the price quoted on the meter.
I had really no idea of the distance (except for knowing its short) I had to travel so there was no way I could decide if I was getting a fair shake or was being “taken for a ride”. I walked up to a fairly crowded rickshaw stand and noticed about 5-7 of them waiting. I went up to the first driver, mentioned I wanted to go to “Old Phillips building” and prepared to get in.
“No sir, I cant go there, I dont have enough petrol (gas)” he ventured. Hmm, was my thought, then why dont you either a) put some when we are on the way or b) go and get some in the tank rather than standing here.
Oh well, I figured there are enough of these here, going to the next one.
“Its too close and I wont get someone to ride back” claimed the next auto driver. I was going to say something about what do I care, when I realized it was a futile attempt at commiserating with him, so I bit my tongue and moved to Bachelor #3.
He was clearly happy listening to his radio station and could not be bothered to move. “I cant move until the two in front go” he said, not even waiting for me to mention where I wanted to go.
Not wanting to waste time, I went back to bachelor #1. “I have time, lets go and fill gas”, I ventured, not really confident I had any time, but hoping he took that as a positive sign.
“The engine will get hot” he complained, adding “Petrol is too expensive now, so I can’t fill it fully so I have to use less oil”. Dont ask me about this line of logic, he presumed his response would satisfy me so I would just go away.
So he would rather wait here and do nothing than go somewhere to make money was my thought.
Bachelor #2 was none to eager to get going, but at least he was willing to listen to my counter offer.
“I’ll pay you 10 rupees more” I ventured.
“No sir, the road is a one way, so I’ll be stuck in traffic”. he replied.
Relegated to the point of name your price game, I asked him how much he’d take to go. “Rupees 50, and I have no change (as in you pay me Rs. 50 exactly or I wont return any money back)” was his reply.
The metered fare, I was told by my friend should not come up to more than Rs. 25, so the spot price was 2X.
” I’ll give you Rs. 35, and if you dont come I’ll take your number and report you to the cops”, was my best response.
“Okay, you can do that” came the reply not even bothering to look up. So much for my counter offer and my “be prepared to walk away strategy”.
I started to move away from the stand noticing another rickshaw coming up, but not yet on the stand. I gestured him to slow down and was about to name the destination, when bachelor #1 shouted “Get back in line, we have been waiting a long time for a customer”.
I mentioned to the other rickshaw driver where I wanted to go and he seemed okay until I got in and he says “its too short a distance so you have to pay me Rs. 15 over the meter price”.
So much for the right price. The market price it seems was about Rs. 40. Wish I had known earlier to save me 15 min in the hot sun.