The conflict between auto drivers and commuters has always been of concern. Initiatives such as Sugama Savari and Peace Auto aim to make life easier for auto drivers and commuters. Sravasti Datta has the details.

Auto fares have been hiked yet again, with rates for minimum distance, increasing from Rs. 20 to Rs. 25 and for every subsequent kilometre, from Rs. 11 to Rs. 13. The hike maybe good news for auto drivers and bad news for commuters, but we agree that it’s not good for the nerves. Haggling and bad behaviour is every commuter’s and auto driver’s nightmare. Can peace, then, be restored? Initiatives such as Sugama Savari, an awareness campaign for best practices for auto drivers, was launched amid much fan fare on December 18, while Peace Auto, the idea of writer and social activist Anil Shetty, aims to help both auto drivers and make rides comfortable for commuters.

“Commuters often complain about rude behaviour and charging extra,” says Additional Commissioner of Traffic B. Dayanand, adding, “Sugama Savari is an interface between commuters and auto drivers. We have started this on an experimental basis.”

As part of the campaign, Sugama Savari has also launched an app, Happy Auto, where commuters can register complaints against errant auto drivers and even give good feedback on honest auto drivers. “200 persons have already registered on it. The auto driver who will receive the most positive feedback, will get a Sugama auto sticker,” explains Dayanand.

Peace Auto was started in October this year by Anil with Huzaifa Khorakiwala, founder of The World Peacekeepers Movement and Subhash Reddy, a social worker, to make peace between auto drivers and commuters. “I used to stay in Koramangala and commute daily by auto. From my interactions with auto drivers, I realised that they had their side of their stories too that people didn’t know of.”

Anil selected seven auto drivers from the Raheja Residency auto stand and trained them to become the first batch of “Peace Auto Drivers.” Now they train a batch of 25 and continue to receive hundreds of applicants. Treating their auto drivers with respect is important for Peace Auto. “A generalised view that all auto drivers are bad is dangerous. We must take into account that there’s no dignity of labour for them. According to them, they are self-employed entrepreneurs. In effect, they are public servants. Every public servant is trained, but auto drivers are not given any training. They have health problems and no social security. If we consider their problems, we can reach out to them.”

Kumar, a peace auto driver, says he is happy to be associated with Peace Auto. “They treat us so well,” he says as he rides his auto carefully, avoiding pot holes and being careful not to overtake.

Ask him about the recent fare hike, and he says: “If the Government raises fuel prices, it is not in our hands. We have so many expenses to take care of.” Raghu N, another peace auto driver, points out that they aim to treat passengers with respect and go by metre.

Karan Gandhi, an IT professional and Divya, a student, say that it is not the fares that are a problem, but “the attitude,” says Karan. “We have faced some unpleasant experiences where auto drivers have taken us for a ride and tampered with metres. So we get on the defensive.”

Anil adds that it is the equal responsibility of commuters to treat auto drivers with respect. “If you are good to them, they will be good to you.”

Peace autos, Anil says, have Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam (the world is a family) displayed on their autos. “They greet the passengers with a smile and treat them respectfully and ensure women travel safely. We believe in the idea, Passenger is God.”

Anil says there are instances when auto drivers with no permits harass commuters, having faced a similar situation himself. Anil recounts a few positive incidents involving Peace Auto. “One of our auto drivers, Dashanna returned an iPhone to a customer who left it in his auto. Another one, Puttaraju got a dollar as a token of appreciation from an American.

All of us deserve respect. One of the quotes of Peace Auto is ‘I am hero in my own movie. You are the hero of your own movie. Let us not judge each other.’”