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“They are ambassadors of Chennai”

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Filled with zeal: A tourist-friendly autorickshaw driver interacts with foreigners on Kamarajar Salai in Chennai. —
Filled with zeal: A tourist-friendly autorickshaw driver interacts with foreigners on Kamarajar Salai in Chennai. —

Staff Reporter

Tourist-friendly autorickshaw drivers take pride in their jobs

CHENNAI: It is not easy to bargain over the fare with autorickshaw drivers in the city when you happen to be a foreign tourist. Without an idea about the fare, the distance and the local language, foreign tourists often become easy targets for many drivers, who collect a huge fare and also take them to shops, where they are given a commission for bringing foreign customers.

Under such circumstances, it is little wonder that the Tourist Friendly Autorickshaw Scheme introduced by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) is proving to be a success.

Fairly priced tours with an English-speaking driver and fares based on the meter is a welcome service to visitors – foreign and Indian alike – who are unfamiliar with the hot, inconvenient metropolis .

The men behind the success are 64 drivers of the special cream coloured autorickshaws. Little notebooks filled with comments from tourists indicate the positive response.

S. Ramachandran, a driver, has a bag full of letters, pictures and postcards send to him from satisfied customers all over the world.

“I love this job. Every day I can work and learn,” he said.

Ramachandran has been driving tourists for the past 12 years and when the Tourist Friendly Autorickshaw Scheme was launched, it fitted him well. It made his job easier, too.

“These colours give me more respect than other drivers and from the police,” he said, referring to the cream colour autorickshaw and pictures of tourist sights that the TTDC provided to all drivers under the scheme.

The fare fixed by the TTDC, the promotional arm of the Tourism Department - Rs.350 for a half day and Rs.700 for a full day - is not a problem for Ramachandran. “The tourists can pay me anything they want,” he said. “I don’t have to cheat them, because I know that the tourists won’t cheat me.”

“The drivers prove to be truly tourist-friendly and they take pride in their jobs. They are ambassadors of Chennai. More and more other cities are showing interest in the scheme, most recently Tiruchi,” Tourism Commissioner M. Rajaram said.

“The 39 drivers of the first batch can apply for a subsidy of Rs.25,000. On top of that, they can apply for a bank loan, so that they can own their autorickshaws,” he said.

Owing an autorickshaw can make a major impact on the lives of the drivers. “Now I spend Rs.150 every day to rent the vehicle,” Ramachandran said.

“With a bank loan to purchase the vehicle, I would only pay Rs.2,000 to the bank each month and after a few years, the autorickshaw will be mine” he said.

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