The auto-rickshaw is the Indian taxi for the masses. You find these open-air yellow vehicles almost throughout the country. They are an iconic element of the Indian cityscape, often seen sneaking between cars and buses in busy traffic.
Cheaper than regular taxis, it is the mode of transport when you need to get somewhere in a hurry.
Catching an auto is an exciting experience. Head to the main road and stick your hand out facing the oncoming traffic. The autos (as they are called) with no passengers swerve away from the traffic towards you.
Getting an auto driver to accept you as a passenger is always challenging. It is up to the driver’s fancy whether to take you or not. They ask where you need to go and then quote a price.
Then the bargaining ensues. You deduct the price by 30%. They refuse. You insist. They quote a lower price. You refuse.
Sometimes you reach a compromise. Sometimes you don’t.
Riding an auto is an essential part of the Indian experience.
Autos all have an electric meter installed in them, a device that calculates your price (Rs 25 minimum) according to your time spent in the vehicle. But almost no driver uses it. They tend to quote prices of their own.
Seated behind the driver in the open air vehicle, you watch the world as you zoom though the city. Behind the seat you typically find disco speakers, often blasting cinema songs at high volumes. Frequently decked with paintings and cinema posters, auto come in all sorts of amusing looks.
Many auto drivers have switched to platforms like Uber or Ola to get passengers in recent years. The app has an algorithm that standardises the price, much like the electric meter. Like booking an Uber taxi, Passengers book an auto through the app. After entering their destination on the app, they see the time the auto will take to reach them and the price they will have to pay.
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Due to the fixed rates, more and more people have turned to these apps. Drivers who don’t use the app find it increasingly difficult to find passengers.
Another, albeit uncommon way of catching an auto is via prepaid auto stands. Typically found at railway stations, you pay drivers a fixed rate at these booths to ensure no exploitation.
The auto is built to accommodate 2-3 people, but it is not uncommon to see entire families crammed into one. Sitting on each other’s lap is a given in these cases. It is quite a sight to see when six people fill the vehicle.
Autos are also often used to transport luggage. You can easily find autos with utensils, suitcases or other goods sticking out from the sides as they drive across roads.
The Covid-19 pandemic wrecked the livelihoods of so many auto drivers. As more people keep to their homes, the search for customers becomes cumbersome. Some have been put out of business altogether.
Riding an auto is an essential part of the Indian experience. It continues to be emblematic of India.
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