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Updated: August 6, 2010 21:38 IST

Green and yellow, and runs all over

AHMED ZAIN ANWAR
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An auto rickshaw driver sleeps in his vehicle in New Delhi.
AP An auto rickshaw driver sleeps in his vehicle in New Delhi.

Ask any Delhiite about his experience on Delhi roads, and chances are that you are provoking a sad lament from a person on the state of traffic in the city. One gets particularly annoyed about the auto-rickshaw drivers, the list of complaints is endless.

Ask any Delhiite about his experience on Delhi roads, and chances are that you are provoking a sad lament from a person on the state of traffic in the city. One gets particularly annoyed about the auto-rickshaw drivers, the list of complaints is endless, the common ones being refusal to take passengers to their destinations and if at all they agree, most will not down their meters and haggle for an inflated fare.

An essential part of Delhi's public transport system, autos can be really handy, particularly when one has to make short distances or is in a hurry. News reports periodically tell us of newer ways that the authorities have come up with to bring some order to the fleet. Alas, it has not being able to succeed fully in reigning in Delhi auto drivers.

A little chat with an array of auto drivers, however, brings out their side of the story. They highlight how being on the other side of the fence has its own set of problems.

Most drivers hire their vehicles which for Rs.300 to 350 every day to the vehicle owners. Plus they have to often bear the cost of CNG fuel on their own. “I work on a 12-hour-shift to meet these expenses and be left with some money to run my house,” says Ram Sagar, an auto driver. He can't go near railway stations and bus depots as he doesn't have a license to drive a commercial vehicle. “I avoid these areas because I will be caught by the police,” he says. On asking what has stopped him from taking a commercial licence, he talks of a failed small business venture in Sarojini Market which has forced him suddenly to take up auto driving.

Though most auto drivers are happy with the recent hike in fares, they try to raise the point that looking after their families with Rs.5 per km, the rate till sometime ago, was tough. “That is why most of us refused to down our metres,” says Zia ul Haq, yet another auto driver.

Customers' attitude also varies. In a day, they come across “those who behave properly and those who look for opportunities to complain,” says Haq, who has been in the job for the last 20 years.

“There are all sorts of people in Delhi, just because some auto-rickshaw drivers misbehave with female passengers the entire community is blamed,” adds Haq.

Most usually talk about earning between Rs. 300 and 400 per day. “Out of that, we have to pay for the vehicle rent, house rent, family expenses and of course bribes and police challans,” says yet another auto driver. For now though, it's meter down.

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