Two New Yorkers spend six months 18 months!?! in Bangalore and other places in India.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Autorickshaws Rule Our Lives

Autorickshaws from Balcony
Originally uploaded by jrambow.
One of the most important parts of day-to-day life here are the small, three-wheeled autorickshaws that putt around all over. Most (or all?) of them in Bangalore are powered by LPG, liquid petroleum gas, which is a mix of propane and butane (it's the same thing our kitchen stove runs on, by the way).

The autorickshaw driver sits in front and drives an engine that's about as powerful as a scooter. The back passenger bench holds about three people in a pinch, or two of them with packages. (If you're talking about little kids, then rickshaw capacity is much, much higher.) Everything's covered over with a bright yellow vinyl cab.

All the rickshaws have meters that are supposed to be used for every trip. Here in Bangalore, the first kilometer costs 10 rupees, and after that it goes up by half-rupees in little clicks. About 75% of the time, the driver refuses to turn on the meter and will want you to pay a set amount to take you to your destination. This amount, of course, is higher than the metered rate would be, with a hefty tip thrown in. The willingness to bargain over the fee and come to an agreement depends on how willing you are to bail and to wait for another rickshaw to come putt-putting down the road. One of our more idealistic guidebooks claims that all locals insist on using meters, and so should tourists. I'm pretty sure that plenty of locals are also paying set fees, albeit ones that are less than mine. Anyway, the point is you can't always get the guy to turn on the meter.

If the meter's off, we always haggle over the price, although that's usually only good for a reduction of 10 rupees. A surprising amount of time, rickshaw drivers don't want to bargain, and we have to wait for another. That's OK, there often seems to be about one rickshaw for everyone in town. (If you later catch your driver bragging to another driver when they're stopped at a light about how much he's charging for the ride, then you didn't bargain hard enough. Not that something so embarrassing ever happened to us . . . .)

If you're going to haggle, it helps to be sure that the driver and you both have the same destination in mind. Street names are not always useful, probably because we often mangle the pronouciation. Landmarks are better, but it can sometimes be hard to know what qualifies as a landmark. Rickshaw-worthy landmarks are not necessarily the same things that maps or tourists think are important. Saying that we want to go to the War Memorial circle, which looks prominent on maps and is a busy intersection, is always met with a blank stare. The Indian Express newspaper building always works, and that makes sense. But Kids Kemp, a local department store, is also good, and I'm not sure why.

All the books warn about drivers that will encourage you to go to craft stores -- they get a commission from the owner for bringing in fresh rubes. Only one driver's tried this with me so far, although I don't mean to minimize the danger. I can think of few things worse than being taken to look at crafts against your will.


Kaps said...

You can try and negotiate for a meter plus 10 / 20 kind of rate as it might put a cap on the premium you are paying.

Bangalore auto drivers are normally pretty honest and they try to ply by the meter. It's evenn worse in other Indian cities.

Anonymous said...

the meter rates are

Rs 10 for first two km

and 5 rs per km there after ( increment in units of 50 Paise)

many autos have rigged meters which charge around 10-20% more than the actual charge.

If an auto has an electronic meter, then it is safe as the riggers have not gotten around to understanding this yet. ( or so far i have not seen a rigged electronic meter).

the rates double after 10 in the night to 6 in the morning.

but usually it doubles after around 8 ( auto standard :) )

Tripp Hall said...

Thanks for the comments -- I'll have to try the meter + 10/20 approach.

The Bangalore Torpedo said...

Try the following

1)Call a nearby cop,he'll make the auto go where you want,just dont do this late at night when you can be mugged by disgruntled drivers.

2)Say "Solpa Adjust Maadi" meaning adjust the price or whatever a bit.Itll work like a charm especially since youre a foreigner and not likely to be in the know of such lingo.

a said...

Hey John - I was in B'lore last July for a couple of days, and write down my observations about the city - see if you agree!

Am from Mumbai, btw!

Parimal said...

Now yesterday I took an auto who said the minimum reading wud be 15/- and 7.5 per KM thereafter. So, enjoy the auto ride. What is amazing is that the fuel prices are not affecting meter rates in other parts of the country. Pune, Mumbai or Delhi are continuing the same rates. Fuel rates are almost same in Mumbai but there the rates are not rising then why is it that rates are increasing only in Bangalore.