Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Chennai Auto Meter Conundrum

When you think of Chennai, the first few things that come to your head – The weather, the language and the auto drivers. The auto drivers and their non-existent meters. Every train journey of mine used to end looking forward to that conversation bargaining with the auto drivers at Central station. It was quite some fun actually, the meaningless arguments I had with them; and at times a good bargain actually gave me a kick. Though most of the times that was never the case.

“Sir, where do you want to go?” an eager autodriver would ask, sensing his prey. “KK Nagar. How much would it cost?” I’d ask with the teeny weeny hope of finding an honest auto driver someday. The reply would almost always range between 250 to the outrageously high 400.

“I only wanted a drop, not a return back to the station once again,” I’d say to the normal ones. Some of the extremely pestering ones earned the barb of “Sir, auto la do you have an AC fitted or something?” And once I got so mega pissed that I pulled off a North Indian impression on an auto driver by replying in stuttering Tamil to the ever so eager “Sir, where do you want to go?”

One could actually see the guy’s eyes literally light up, sensing that he had found his bakra for the day. “Sir, 500 sir. Punch So,” he replied. I bargained with him a little in my broken Tamil, and English. And then when he refused to climb down below 400, I asked “Enna pa, veli ooru na orediya emaathuvenga pola” (What bro, if its some outstation guy, you’ll literally fool him?) And that was the last I saw of the guy, who said “Sorry boss” and made a quick escape.

With such a multitude of experiences with auto guys, and their general averseness to meters in Chennai, I was really curious to see how the recent government order mandating meters in Chennai would work. My initial thought was that it would go down the drain like most other previous attempts. But boy, they seem to have done their homework real well this time.

I began my walk from outside the bus stand today, to look for an auto. The eager faces that would crowd around you were missing. Probably realizing that the place would no longer fetch them the lucrative amounts it once did. Outside, I called for an auto; who came over. “Meter?” I enquired. “No sir, not working. I’ve given it for repair. You tell me, how much are you willing to pay, we’ll go”

I asked the auto guy again, if he’d turn on the meter. He stood his stand, and I asked him to move on. Two more autos passed. One asked me for 20 bucks more than the meter, quoting the usual old excuse of a one-way road on the way back. And the other auto didn’t have a meter at all, but the rate card alone! “Sir, government has themselves given us time for implementation. What is your problem? Wait for it to get implemented,” he told me.

With slight disappointment, and the frustration of having been stuck in the traffic for a long time, I thought I’d give it a go this time; and started. “I’ll give you 70.” An old uncle behind me who saw me struggle walked up and told me, “What pa. You look educated and all. From here to KK Nagar will just be about 50 bucks. Don’t trust these fellows. They’ll tell you the meter won’t work, and once you climb in, they’ll turn it on so that they don’t get caught by the police”.  And it was then that something struck me. 

Finally, after a ten minute wait, an auto driver came up to me. “Where do you want to go sir?”. “KK Nagar,” I replied and asked him how much it would cost. He silently pointed at the meter, and asked me to get in.

And then and there, I decided I was never going in an auto without a meter ever again. After all the posturing all over the place about how Chennai autos are terrible, I still see plenty of people bargaining with auto drivers who have a meter. Or at times, travel in autos without a meter. If people refuse to get into autos that don’t have a meter, wouldn’t the auto guys be forced to get a meter fitted; or suffer from a lack of business? As long as there are people who still walk into the auto at the rates these guys quote, there would remain auto drivers who would still game the system, like the ones who run the meter just for the heck of it, just to escape the eye of the policeman.

The government, has done its part. There are gaps, yes. But the ball is in our court. While the government will do its part to implement the change or any change for that matter, the old uncle today taught me an important lesson. 

Do your bit as well.

1 comment:

'कलमवीर' said...

the ending was indeed good!