It started out as a discussion in the edit meeting and my colleagues, all hardcore Mumbaikars, unlike me who’s an expat, were chorusing about the travails of daily commute on the auto-rickshaws in the city. It’s the usual litany of complaints against the autos – refusal to ply on specific routes, overcharging, faulty meters….the list continues.
Now I come from a city where autos and their drivers are tough breed – refusal to ply short distances, charging arbitrary fare on the pretext that the meters don’t work, refusal to ply certain routes because they don’t get any return fare from that area, or overcharging to compensate for the lack of any return fare as if it were the passenger’s fault and of course, little help from the Aapke liye and aapke saath Delhi Police who following the letter of the law say complaints against autos need to be made at the nearest police station, and can’t be taken cognisance of on the roadside. I can personally vouch for such an instance – being stranded on NH1 around the time when Cinderella’s coach was to turn back into a pumpkin.
So even though as denizens of two mutually antagonistic cities I could empathise with their grudges against auto drivers – and to be fair, it’s not just my colleagues who’ve suffered, other residents in this city have a bagfull of complaints, and not just against the autos but also against the cabs – there is an unreported side too.
One of the complaints from commuters against the auto drivers is their propensity to make a few bucks extra by not returning the balance amount under the pretext that they don’t have any ‘change’. I am not doubting the veracity of those who’ve had such an experience, but at the same time, one can personally vouch for having come across several instances when auto drivers have willingly foregone a few bucks since they did not have return balance amount, accepting fare less than the metered amount. So say, if the fare totalled Rs 33, they have settled for Rs 30 when I have handed over 40 bucks as they did not have the balance amount of Rs 7.
And it’s not just one instance – there are several such instances I have had over varying distances and fares. Additionally, considering I have a fixed route from my residence to the suburban train station daily, I have become familiar with the meter reading and sometimes, when I have noticed the meter reading increasing at an unusually rapid pace and brought it to the notice of the auto drivers, they have without any grudge acknowledged the fault by saying that I could pay what I regularly pay for that route and not once has there been a complaint by any auto driver that I had short-changed him.
Which is why I also decided not to grudge a couple of rupees extra if the auto driver doesn’t have the requisite balance amount and the nearest rounding off figure was on the higher side rather than on the lower side. So, say, if the fare came to Rs 28 or 29, and one pays up 30 bucks, if the auto driver doesn’t have any ‘change’, I have let it be and let him keep that one or two bucks extra.
After all, they also let go of a few extra bucks when they are ‘short-changed’.