As I flag an auto in the morning, I encounter something I haven’t for most of my adult life. A young auto driver named Mani offers to turn on the meter: no negotiations or demand. Seeing me surprised, he says, “We have to start somewhere, right?”
Throughout the journey from West Mambalam to Express Avenue, Mani speaks about how relieved he is about not having to negotiate anymore. He jokes that auto-drivers need counselling too. “It is difficult psychologically to accept fares far lower than what we would earn otherwise,” he says. Determined to follow the new regulations, Mani hopes that more people begin to use autos. There is also a strong resentment against share autos. “They are also unregulated.”
By the time I reach Express Avenue, the meter has clocked Rs. 74.50. Usually, I would have paid somewhere between Rs. 100 rupees and Rs.120. I hand him a 100 rupee note expecting to receive Rs. 20 in change. To my surprise, he returns Rs. 25.50. Again, something of a first for me in this city.