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DeCoding the Wily Being – The Auto Rickshaw !

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Public Transport

The 'Maze' made good reading. It reminded me of an article abt the auto-rickshaw that appeared sometime back in TOI, which was something like this :

Roads in India defy order & logic of any kind. The Indian road is mostly a dirt track & provides an avenue for hawking, parking, garbage dumping, etc. & struggles to attempt to provide a corridor for transportation amidst the chaos & anarchy.

And at its heart, playing a key role is the Auto-Rickshaw, a three-wheeler commonly referred to as “Auto”, the only such being of its kind, perhaps in the universe. The “Auto” does indeed seem so naturally & effortlessly Indian on all counts – by appearance, by its noise, lack of road manners, pollution & its undisciplined & unpredictable movements.

The auto is the Indian urban rat, a wily, crafty creature that dribbles its way through the Indian urban sewer. The auto deals with the road on a second-by-second basis, recognizing that the Indian road is the abode of constantly changing circumstances. Twisting & turning all along its way through traffic, chaos & mankind in no particular order, every inch of territory on the Indian road is fought for & gained not by courage but by guile & cunning. The auto defies the idea that the road is a straight line but sees it as a chessboard, contemplating its next move based on obstacles on it’s path & options available, however crooked they may seem.

In many ways, the auto is perfectly at home in twisty by-lanes. ‘Gullies’ & ‘Mohallas’ seem like the perfectly natural neighborhood for the auto. The auto mimics their lack of linearity with “Made for each other” ease. In fact, even on straight roads the auto contrives somehow to avoid the sense of linearity by sheer habit as it zigzags & wriggles along, as it makes progress.

The auto, like most other things in India, always seeks to subvert order & insinuate itself wherever & whenever it can – it is common to see an auto climbing up a footpath or divider & get ahead of other more patient road vehicles. One can commonly sight an auto going in the opposite direction on a one way road, or even through a stop or red signal, appearing to go unnoticed & without ruffling any feathers. The auto also brings to us a vastly enhanced sense of sub-atomic distances by intruding so close to the vehicle ahead that limits seem not just to have been tested, but to have vanished & distances, spaces & gaps seem to have disappeared, & yet, miraculously, no contact was made.

The auto, with the least effective wheel suspensions, is also a vehicle that transmits the topography of the Indian road into the passengers’ innards, converting travel over road bumps, potholes, debris, pebbles, stones, etc. into an efficient digestive experience.

The key to understanding the auto is to understand its design. The principle governing its design is perhaps the overwhelming view of compromise being not a lesser choice, but an inevitable & ideal choice. All else be damned, but cost has to be minimum – even, miniscule. Vehicle noise & some air pollution are quite natural & acceptable on the Indian road, as long as they don’t immediately damage ears or lungs. The speed the auto is capable of traveling has been carefully chosen – It is significantly faster than a cycle, but lesser than that of cars or other wastefully expensive means of transportation. If this were looked at from the reality of Indian roads, it travels at the “ideal speed”. Take the case of its suspension – this too is self-limiting for its speed – if the auto travels too fast, one’s insides would mimic that of a violent food processor.

The speed of the engine is thus made slower, but cheaper & in line with the Indian road & Indian circumstances. The engine seems to have been perfected to the ultimate & is versatile & very efficient to serve it’s purpose. It can use all kinds of adulterated fuel, even adulterated kerosene or adulterated diesel. And it can run for indefinite periods without lubricating oil & /or cooling water. What’s more, the auto can also be used as a mobile rest house for overnights at remote locations where it has ended the day in its wanderings.

The auto is a shanty on wheels & represents the idea of personal transportation promising to offer protection against the elements, without offering any guarantees. In a larger sense, the auto accurately captures the “hybrid mongrel“ nature of Indian towns. It also affirms the Indian belief that life is hard, but there can always be a way around it. And circumstances will compel you to yield to trusting an auto to take you where you want to go – Sort of.


tsubba's picture


120 users have liked.
there are a lot of "hardware" and "software" problems with the auto. the hardware problem is mainly due to the lack of innovation by a monopoly established under the licence raj. but the auto is perfectly suited to be an indian innovation. here is a summary of things i have learnt from reading praja, including your own writings. autos are optimally sized for about 2-3 passengers. you can prolly replace it with the cheapest small car, even those i guess use more energy to perform the same function. bigger the cars ofcourse, greater the differential. at the same time, i dont know if car based taxis can match the price point of autos. if it cannot then it just deprives point to point service for a whole segment of people - think hospital visits, out of city bus users and so on... mass transit is indispensable but even with mass transit auto/small car type "taxi" service is invaluable. say metro, if you add more stations then service slows down, but if you make stations far off, reach decreases. here auto/small car type taxi can be useful. buses are too huge to be feeders. more over, they have to follow a route which increases travel time for passengers. auto drivers have no meaningful organization. auto drivers do a job that is similar to city bus drivers. but unlike city bus drivers, they have no financial security, no benefits like health insurance and no training. if service is an industry/trade then these guys are unskilled labourers in that trade. the auto business can be an indian innovation. why cant the indian IT consider them as business processes that need operations optimization? perhaps agencies like BMTC should take over auto business. if you think about it autos are prolly a minimum 50-100crore/year business. this will also allow autos to go for innovations - like how BMTC customized their specs for the volvo buses instead of going for their stock models and how it experiments with biodiesel. perhaps autos can benefit from such organization too and force bajaj to customize and perhaps with organization, it will also be easy to regulate autos. auto is an indian industry. even if they donot do any of these, perhaps BLR can apply for jnnurm funds for to train the drivers. that itself make a significant impact. didn't infy train BLR airport's employees? also perhaps an upgrade in fuel type.
tsubba's picture

auto nurm?

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as we know eazy auto is facing severe monetary crunch. can we come up with a draft for a nurm proposal for strengthening eazy auto and adding training component to it? every driver has to go through 2 hours on traffic rules, 2 on hardware/pollution/maintenance and 2 hours on service and organization? we can use the structure(given by Mysore commissioner) of the draft we sent for mysore heritage walk. 1. Why auto? what it will do to the city? 2. What are the features? The complete justification. 3. The work that need to be done and cost involved. 4. The institutional mechanism which will create it. 5. The institutional mechanism which will run it. we then have to sell it to eazy auto, BCP and see if we can get BMTC and or some others involved. shastri already knows the eazy auto person, perhaps we can get her to see if she likes the idea? shastri yenanthiya? perhaps we can come up with a small article covering all these points and contact people to see if this will fly, before we go on a detailed draft. that is ok too. whether it is draft or article, we can work on this using thampan's ideas. we all hate autos at some level, but they are not going to go away for sure. perhaps we can atleast try to do something about them. what do you guys think?
silkboard's picture

Indian Autorickshaw challenge

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For auto fans, pics from an event they called the Indian AutoRickshaw Challenge
Naveen's picture

Auto - much better than others

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TS - Noted. Whilst we may ridicule autos in our cities, surely they are far better than the 'tuk-tuks' at Bangkok, Pattaya & Manila, though with some restrictions, the scene on the roads is better at Bangkok or Pattaya. We see them so undisciplined because of the terrible congestion on roads, particularly Bangalore - at least they go by their meters here. In neighboring Chennai, they never go by their meters & try to charge exorbitant - sometimes, taxis are cheaper ! Anyway, whilst educating them will always have to go on & is perhaps the only way to improve their road manners, I feel that if congestion is reduced, as can be done with a properly designed metro system, they will improve tremendously since dependence on autos will also reduce. About 20-25 years back, these autos in B'lore were much more co-operative & very dependable, but today they are being labeled as "urban rats", etc. Clearly, there is a lack of innovation since the auto manufacturer (bajaj) holds a monopoly & in the absence of serious competition, will not try any major upgrades. We can only hope for more competitors to rise up quickly, & this may happen, given the economic scene in the country.
rkay's picture

Lack of competition

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Auto drivers (or the owners of autos) are notoriously short-sighted. They typically work for that day. While there are lots of hard-working honest drivers, there is a larger percentage of laze-around-and-make-a-quick-buck types. Why can't a group of autos distinguish themselves under a visible group while providing simple features such as (a) accurate digital meters (b) never saying no to any destination - or perhaps making alternate arrangement from within their group (c) nice clean seats that don't slide out or for that matter bump your head against the oh-so-stupidly placed bar at the top. Once the public figures that, say - "Ganesh Autos", provides ultimate service, they would prefer to call one out when there's a choice. Hopefully this could spur others to emulate and expand services. All those eAutos could happen slowly once there is brand recognition.
tsubba's picture

Auto LPG?

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According to this Hindu report LPG is the way they doing. some parts of it here. can you corroborate?

For the last four years a multi department task force has been on the job of reducing the levels in accordance with a 14-point action plan, also called Air Quality Improvement Action Plan. The action plan had involved five departments — Transport, Food and Civil Supplies, Home, Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation and Karnataka Sate Pollution Control Board (KSPCB).

One of the main components of the action plan was the conversion of three-wheelers registered after 1991 to bi-fuel mode, petrol and LPG, with authorised LPG kits and fixed LPG tanks.

The second component was mandatory registration of three-wheelers having bi-fuel mode starting from 2003, and the final component was to take action for conversion of nearly 35,000 autorickshaws, running on unspecified and unauthorised LPG kits and detachable cylinders.

Transport Department sources said that since the last four years 61,869 autorickshaws, out of the 72,400, have been fitted with authorised LPG kits. Steps were also taken to phase out 4,000 autorickshaws registered before April 1991; 6,000 autorickshaws will be converted to LPG in three months. The Transport Department has registered 25,595 autorickshaws till July 31, 2007, and all of them have LPG kits with fixed tanks.

It is difficult, however, to establish that ambient air quality in Bangalore has improved as the old generation two-stroke two-wheelers are still plying in large numbers.

Action taken
The Food and Civil Supplies Department discovered that white kerosene was extensively used in autorickshaws, along with petrol, for combustion, and in some heavy vehicles, kerosene was used with High Speed Diesel (HSD) to bring down the per kilometre running cost. Under the recommendations of the task force, the Government increased the Value Added Tax on white kerosene to narrow the gap with HSD. The prevailing price, according to department sources, of kerosene and HSD are Rs. 37.83 and 37.51 a litre, respectively. The department feels that there is no incentive for adulteration anymore.

The various departments have also taken steps, collectively and individually, to control air pollution in the city. Regular inspection of quality of petrol sold in the city and the State is being done.

any of this makes sense? the story of how the food and civil supplies department tackled the kerosene mafia is very interesting. it plugged the illegal diversion of subsidised kerosene to the tune of 500 kilo litre (5 lakh litre) every month, which was actually meant for the benefit of poor under Public Distribution System (PDS). What the department did was very simple -- it asked all ration card holders (BPL and APL non-LPG beneficiaries) to give a declaration that they are residing in the same address as shown in their ration cards in Bangalore, in June 2007. read more about this story in this DH report....

tsubba's picture


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why do they refuse to go to certain areas? do they refuse it all times? one answer i can think of fear of not being hired on return trip. any other reasons?
Naveen's picture

UnCooperative Autos

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I think the basic reason is that they have seemingly become indispensable, given the deteriorating road congestion & inefficient public transport. There are too many customers chasing them & this provides them with many opportunities to fleece them & choose their terms. A new trick is that an auto will agree to go in the direction where you want to go, but will abort short of your destination at some point where he thinks he can get return customers more easily. Say, you want to go to ITPL. He agrees, but at Kundalahalli junction, he starts saying his auto does not have sufficient fuel or he feels dizzy & asks for payment. The only proper & permanent solution is for the city to have several modes of good & reliable transportation for commuters, but this seems like wishful thinking, at least for the present. comment guidelines

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