Bangaloreans have a love-hate relationship with the ubiquitous autorickshaw
A harried commuter late for work stops an autorickshaw at 9.30 a.m. and asks: “Koramangala?” The auto driver doesn't bat an eyelid: “Rs. 150, sir.” The man, knocked for a six, points out that it's barely eight km away. After due haggling, they settle for a deal of “Rs. 10 more on the meter”.
Scenes like these are common on the streets of Bangalore. With the city becoming truly “Bruhat Bengaluru” and the public transport system unable to keep pace with the needs of the burgeoning metropolis, lakhs are dependent on autorickshaws. And during the rainy season, the dependence goes up even more.
Bangalore has an estimated population of 84.74 lakh as per the 2011 census, practically doubling in the last 10 years, and growing at the rate of 3.25 per cent.
Simultaneously, there has been a phenomenal growth in the population of vehicles. With household incomes rising, there is a boom in the population of two- and four- wheelers, leading to severe congestion on the roads. An average Bangalorean spends more than 240 hours stuck in traffic every year, according to Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Study (CTTS) done by Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES).
Despite the claim that the city has the best public transport system in the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), with 6,122 schedules and earning traffic revenue to the tune of Rs. 3.4 crore a day, commuters still find themselves hard-pressed, particularly with first- and last-mile connectivity. Which is why Bangaloreans are dependent on the huge network of autorickshaws, now an indispensable part of the public transport system.
According to sources in the Transport Department, there are over 80,000 licensed autorickshaws in the city, besides 45,000 running without proper documents. So the city has an estimated autorickshaw population of 1.25 lakh. These are manned by over three lakh auto drivers doing multiple shifts.
Ever since then Mayor Keshava permitted a foreign couple to operate 10 autorickshaws on a trial basis in Shivajinagar 61 years ago, these noisy little three-wheelers have become an inseparable part of the Bangalorean's life who shares a love-hate relationship with them.
Commuters accuse auto drivers of being a law unto themselves, violating traffic rules at will, contributing to atmospheric and noise pollution and harassing them by overcharging or refusing to operate.
No proper study
Meenakshi Sundram, State president, Federation of Karnataka Auto Rickshaw Drivers' Unions (FKARDU), concedes that while some drivers may overcharge their passengers, little understanding and research have gone into the economy of this important transport segment. He attributes multiple factors such as barriers in access to the credit to buy autos, lack of social security, family conditions, demography, absence of timely revision of fares and alleged harassment by the police.
FKARDU general secretary Raghavendra says extending benefits of Below Poverty Line card and other social security benefits, besides revision of rates with the increase in petroleum prices will improve the situation significantly.
Most are rented
Praveen Kumar, an auto driver from Malleswaram, says more than 90 per cent of the drivers depend on rented autos by paying anywhere between Rs. 100 to Rs. 200 a day.
“With a sizeable chunk of my earnings spent on paying rent, how can I support my family?” he asks.
A major problem is access to credit.
“To get a bank loan to buy an auto, we have to pay Rs. 20,000 to 30,000 to middlemen, as it is difficult to get loans directly from banks. Many auto drivers depend on private financiers who charge an exorbitant 24 per cent interest,” he says.
The latest in their list of woes is the Government's decision to fix minimum educational qualification to get a driving licence. “If we had good qualification, why would we opt for this stressful job?” he asks.