Since moving to Bangalore in May, I have – hand on my heart – the most stress-free transportation situation! No more trains or commutes driving myself into work through stop and go traffic.
You see, in India they drive on the left side of the road and have a very “balls to the wall” style of driving that is quite aggressive and unique compared to European or American standards so they generally stick us foreigners in the safe hands of a local driver – probably more for their own protection than the comfort reasons I so enjoy but who I am I to argue? As such, and as part of my relocation package, from the moment I arrived I was given the best, most trust-worthy and dependable driver in India. So much so that even after I changed jobs and lost that “benefit” that I have personally retained him as part of our new family of staff who help me and my daughter so happy live in India. Shiva speaks brilliant English, is NOT a horn-blowing addict like most Indians, he helps me with my blogs and local research needs which is quite fantastic…and he’s always around. Well, that is except on Sundays! And that, my friends, is when my inspiration for this article started.
Normally I hibernate on Sundays and turn into something of a couch potato but at the moment I am in the middle of a series of articles reviewing the hot venues to go for Sunday Brunch in Bangalore so – obviously – I need to move around now on Sundays. In the past, whenever I was on the go on a Sunday I always booked a taxi that would stick with me for the day but at the moment we are really watching every Rupee we spend so we opted to take an ‘auto’ instead (here the locals call rickshaws ‘autos’ because they are auto rickshaws, not the traditional peddled rickshaws).
And to be completely honest, given a bit of my prissy nature, I always booked taxis because they are simply more comfortable. They ensure that I arrive to my destination still smelling like my favourite perfume instead of foul smelling exhaust fumes that have permeated into my clothes, skin and hair which happens more often than not in an open vehicle moving around in Bangalore traffic. My prissy side hates that part so much that I only use ‘autos’ when I am going a really short distance, for example from the high street in our ‘hood back to our flat.
Both my daughter and I find ‘autos’ quite fun, very “Indian” and pretty damn thrilling as they zip through traffic. But not all ‘autos’ nor all drivers are created equal. Some drivers go so insanely slow that I’ve actually wanted to whip them a bit to speed them up (okay, not really hit him but I do usually tell them to please speed up when even the bullock carts are going faster than we are). I guess that some of them do this to make the journey last longer and run up the meter. Then there are other times that a driver will speed along sooooo fast and drive so erratically that it seems like they are on a journey to hell.
My daughter, who takes ‘autos’ 20 times more than I do, swears that her worst experience so far was the driver that returned her home after the recent Metallica concert. She swears that he was actually trying to kill her and her friends but this of course can’t be proved. He was going so fast, almost hitting other vehicles and almost going up on 2 wheels at times. Not good! The adventure is so much like a video game at times that she’s actually making a funny video at the moment with clips from her ‘auto’ drives set to music from Mario Kart or some Super Mario Brothers game, which is aptly appropriate music for this mode of transportation, trust me!
My opinion after Sunday is that ‘autos’ are still cool but their drivers are often blood sucking vampires. My daughter and I set out from our flat and walked to the first busy street around the corner and waited only a few seconds before the first empty ‘auto’ stopped for us. He asked where we were going, which was about 15 minutes away, took a good look at us and said “150 Rupees”! That was insane, the ride should cost a maximum of 50 Rupees, even with a bit of traffic so we said, “no, put the meter on.” He refused, so we walked away. The guy yelled back, probably wanting to haggle but I really hate that and I simply wasn’t in the mood for it so we waited for the next one, hoping our luck would improve. This same thing happened again and again three more times, with each one giving us a price from 80 Rupees to 120 Rupees and each one – illegally – refusing to put the meter on.
Then our luck changed a bit, in sort of an odd way. The next ‘auto’ guy to stop didn’t know where we were going – or probably better, couldn’t understand my accent when I told him (read here, this is a common problem I have here…but I am trying to “Indian up” my accent lately!). So I asked the driver to hold on one second as I rang Shiva quickly and then passed him the phone. Shiva explained, in Kannada (the local language spoken here), exactly where we wanted to go. He started the conversation with “My madam wants to go to XYZ place…” and I’m sure he referred to me again as “his madam” which made the driver realize that we lived here and that we weren’t tourists so when we sat down he immediately put on the meter and we were off.
After our lovely Sunday brunch at one of my favourite downtown hotels, my daughter and I both had separate plans. I was headed to happy hour at UB City (10 minutes away) and she was headed to Forum Mall with friends in Koramangala (25’ish minutes away) but we decided to share the ride so we hopped into the only ‘auto’ that was parked outside the hotel on a pre-negotiated flat rate deal because I was stepping out first and I wanted to be sure she had enough money and there would be no surprises. We agreed on 200 Rupees, which was INSANELY high but I didn’t want to haggle too much with a guy who I was about to entrust with my daughter and to be honest we were told that the trip to Koramangala would take between 45 minutes to an hour so it seemed fair. But that wasn’t at all how things ended. First, she arrived about 20ish minutes after dropping me off. She also informed me that the driver wouldn’t let her go unless she paid 300 Rupees instead of the 200 he agreed on. What an ASS! He was a huge guy and she wasn’t going to argue with him too much so she paid it…but luckily we both had snapped photos of his identification plaque so I need to go report him to the police (that will likely give me a whole new blog post in itself too as a completely unique experience so I’ll link to it afterwards).
So…how can foreigners avoid these pitfalls and bullshit and try to receive the same treatment that a local does when taking an auto rickshaw? Keep in mind that it is illegal for auto rickshaw drivers to refuse to put on the meter! And often times if you are not going to the “right” place for the driver he will refuse the destination, which is also not permitted if they are not off duty.
Here is what you do to have an ‘auto’ experience like a native:
- When the ‘auto’ stops, don’t talk to the driver first…just hop in and sit down
- Tell the driver where you want to go
- If he says no, then turn on your best Indian attitude – get tough and show your authority – and start aggressively asking questions like “is this a public service?” and questions of that nature. Stay put and say very clearly that you are not going anywhere and not going to leave. Be strong and take control of the situation.
- Once that’s done, make sure he puts the meter on.
- If the driver refuses to put on the meter then instantly take out your camera or phone and snap a photo of the ID plaque in front of him and tell him you won’t haggle on price and that you want him to put on the meter.
- If that doesn’t work then whip out your phone and say, “that’s fine, I’m going to call the police.” It is likely that just the threat of a call to the police should be enough to light a fire under the driver’s ass so that he starts the engine AND the meter.
In Bangalore just dial 100 from any phone and you are connected instantly to the police, I’m not sure in other cities. The police respond to this type of call within about 10 minutes and they instantly write a ticket and fine the driver around 500 Rupees or more. If the officer is corrupt then he might take cash instead and not write the ticket but this still gets the job done with respect to your problem.
One final tip: in case you are desperate, in a hurry or simply don’t feel comfortable getting aggressive….try negotiating the price on the meter + 20 Rupees. This is a tip from my daughter and works for her and her friends more often than not. Definitely beats the insane flat rates that the drivers try to scam out of us foreigners so give it a try!
After that, just sit down, hold on and enjoy the ride…Mario Kart style!!!
© 2011 Angela Carson