CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

The Sorrows and Travails of India’s Autorickshaw Drivers

Photo by Tom Vanderbilt

Over at The City Fix, I picked up some facts about urban autorickshaw drivers in India, via a study by Leslie Phillips and her team at the University of Texas:

It is more than 50% likely that a driver has a family of up to 8 people to support, and in order to do so, a driver works an average of 10-12 hours per day. Recent statistics from Delhi suggest that nearly 80% of auto rickshaw drivers rent their vehicles, and pay out roughly half of their daily revenue in rental fees.

They are socially distanced from the government and the manufacturers of their product:

While they are an integral part of transportation in almost every major Indian city, the auto rickshaw drivers are perceived as a nuisance to the system. The findings of our study corroborated this point: auto rickshaw drivers are a struggling population caught in a system where they are treated with utter disregard by the government and are often resented by their own customers. Most of the recent auto rickshaw reforms have been reactionary, as regulatory authorities and traffic police attempt to crack down on poor behavior (traffic violations, emissions) as opposed to implementing systemic reforms. Meanwhile, manufacturers generally do not perceive rickshaw drivers as their end client, but rather focus on the passenger when designing and positioning their vehicles. This has created a crucial disconnect in the auto rickshaw industry, where the very people who ultimately drive the success of the industry (the drivers) are left out of the process.

These pressures result in some unsavory practices (though this no doubt made for fascinating fieldwork):

While the interviews with randomly selected auto rickshaw drivers went relatively smoothly, the MBA group’s experience in India with the auto rickshaw drivers (what could be considered the “tourists’ perspective”) was the complete opposite. The majority of students who rode in auto rickshaws in Delhi and Bangalore were not given the option to use the fare meter but rather had to negotiate the fare from one destination to the next. Despite the agreed upon destination, drivers often took us to a different tourist location (commonly a souvenir shop) while still demanding to be paid. Many of our classmates speculated that there must be a kick-back for drivers who delivered tourists to these locations. Indeed, two auto rickshaw drivers who we interviewed revealed the details of the tourist payment scheme: If they succeed in bringing a group of tourists to a local shop, the driver will receive a two-liter gas coupon from either the owner of the shop or the “rickshaw boss.” A two-liter coupon is enough to keep a rickshaw tank full for at least a day and thus provides a strong incentive to break the agreed-upon route – and trust – with the tourist customer.

There’s hope yet for the drivers, with organizations like NyayaBhoomi, a cooperative that is “intended to create a brand image for auto-rickshaws by providing radio (call) auto-rickshaw service, improving driver behavior through training, instituting a formal fare collection system through GPS devices installed in vehicles, and creating an organized sector with employment benefits (i.e. insurance and pension policies, uniforms, regular vehicle maintenance) for drivers from revenues obtained through advertising.”

This advertising revenue would come from advertisements on the autorickshaws themselves, which already tend to be fairly well adorned, as the painted mudflaps below indicate (though, sadly, this is a somewhat fading art form, replaced by sticker-based art, or none at all).

Photo by Meanest Indian/Flickr

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 27th, 2010 at 8:16 am and is filed under Cities, Commuting, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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