Even as serpentine queues formed outside petrol bunks, and fuel prices hit the roof, at the cycle rickshaw stand outside Central Station, it was business as usual. Elderly rickshaw drivers dragged their ageing cycle rickshaws filled with luggage and passengers, one peddle at a time. In pockets of the city where cycle rickshaws ply, many residents choose to go by them rather than autorickshaws and share autos, especially for short distances.
“Autos ask for Rs. 50 at least from Mint Street to Central Station, but it cost me only Rs. 30 by cycle rickshaw. It is ideal for those travelling short distances and they work really hard to earn this money,” says Deepika Dinesh, who took a cycle rickshaw to the station. G.N. Murali Kumar, another passenger, points out that while both autos and share autos have hiked their rates, cycle rickshaw rates continue to remain the same.
Shankar S., who is 70, has been riding cycle rickshaws in Sowcarpet for the past 40 years, points out why cycle rickshaws still find patrons, especially, in this part of the city. “The streets here are narrow, congested and packed with pedestrians. Auto drivers usually prefer going long distances while we drive within the neighbourhood. On some days, I have gone as far as Egmore Railway Station, but it is very rare. Moreover, travelling by cycle rickshaws for shorter distances is much more economical,” he says.
N. Raj, an auto driver who drives around N.S.C. Bose road says that even when they face competition from cycle rickshaws, it is not possible for them to reduce their fare rates. “Most people who travel by autos here are those who come and shop in the markets and have a lot of bags. After the hike in fuel prices, the number of passengers has gone down at least by four every day,” he laments.
In areas like Sowcarpet, Triplicane and Mylapore there are still several cycle rickshaw drivers. “Most of my passengers are either schoolchildren or elderly people who go to the temple,” says Muthu N. who drives around the Kapaleeshwar Temple. “The rest of them want to go fast, and it is not possible for us to pedal in that kind of speed. I ask for an additional ten rupees, because the cost of maintaining the rickshaw has gone up. A tyre used to cost Rs. 105 five years ago, today it costs Rs. 300.”