On a mission to make auto drivers tourist-friendly

400 auto drivers will be trained to extend courteous welcome to visitors..— Photo: G. Krishnaswamy  

A visitor to the town is sooner or later likely to run into the ubiquitous autorickshaw- if not for a ride, at least for directions. In a bid to ensure tourists get a better first impression of the town, the Tourism Department has launched an initiative to ensure that auto drivers extend a courteous welcome to guests.

More than 400 auto drivers from 25 auto stands located in prominent tourist spots are being given a crash course on treating passengers better. Following the training, the autos will carry a sticker which says ‘tourist friendly auto’ embossed on the Tourism Department’s logo. “While we promote various facets of Puducherry outside, we need to focus on what we offer at home,” A.S. Sivakumar, director, Tourism Department, told The Hindu .

City guides

The first batch of 100 drivers who attended the training was given an outline of places of historical and cultural significance, along with streets and building of heritage value by Chidambaram, a tourism official. The training hopes to shed the negative connotations associated with auto drivers, said K. Ganesh, director, Centre for Environmental and Agriculture Development, an NGO that imparted the training. “We focused on helping them realise the responsibility they hold in ferrying passengers safely and acting as city guides,” said T.G. M Ganesan, a trainer. While only 50 were expected to participate, the final turn-up surprised the organisers.

“We were sceptical initially that they would complain about losing half-a-day’s income,” said Mr. Ganesh. While a total of 2000 auto drivers would be targeted, the first phase would involve 400 in batches of ten over two months, including those from stands at the beach, Aurobindo Ashram, Manakula Vinayagar Temple, the bus stand, railway station, Indira Gandhi square, Chunnambar, Ousteri lake and Auroville. The participants have been given a tourist kit which includes maps in English and Tamil, a brochure on heritage buildings and streets, a guide book with details of restaurant, shopping sites and other services.

“The language barrier makes it difficult for us to understand where tourists want to go. If there is some orientation in English or Hindi for interested drivers, it would help us,” suggested auto driver Eganathan.

But will the initiative change prevailing attitudes of auto drivers? Many auto drivers like Sundarajan are enthused by the prospect. “We can always try. I have been driving for 22 years in this town but this is the first time I am participating in a training focused on behaviour towards passengers.”

A refresher course in three months to six months to assess the impact of the initiative and reiterate the message would reap better results.