I am glad that HT has launched a campaign against errant auto drivers. I am sure, at some point, every Mumbaiite has been a victim of auto drivers who tamper with their meters to extract more money from passengers.
Unfortunately, between rushing to work, fetching children from school and running between errands, most of us cannot be bothered to tally the meter reading with the meter card, check the card and pay the correct fare. Usually, we end up paying a few rupees extra.
But it’s important to remember that when most of us stop caring about those few extra rupees, the dishonest driver ends up walking away with a good deal more money — and learns that he can profit easily from misdeeds.
For me, returning home after four years in the US, the city overall looks very different.
It feels like the soul of Mumbai is dying, with everyone just out to dupe someone else. In such a situation, why should a rickshaw driver get left behind, right? It’s an easy trap to fall into. Even I began to think like this.
Inflation has pinched the pockets of the ordinary, middle-class Mumbaiite. Poor government intervention in controlling inflation has made things worse.
Earlier, Mumbaiites used to be a whole lot more cheerful and helpful. Today, it seems like everyone is on edge all the time, always ready to pick a fight or make a dishonest buck.
When I left the city, auto rickshaws in Navi Mumbai charged a minimum fare of Rs 8. Today, that fare stands at a ridiculous Rs 15.
On my return, I was also appalled to learn about a close friend’s brush with a rowdy rickshawala. This friend takes the same route to work every day, so she knows the estimated travel time and fare.
On one such regular day, she took a rickshaw from Goregaon to her office in Andheri (East) and, instead of the regular Rs 120, was asked to pay Rs 160.
When she asked the driver if his meter was working, he began yelling that she should quietly pay the fare.
Even if she was implying that he had purposely taken a longer route or tampered with his meter, what was she going to do about it, he demanded? Angry and dumbfounded, my friend paid Rs 120 and walked away.
Even the new electronic meters seem to have become the latest plaything for rickshaw drivers. Such incidents make me feel as if I am being held to ransom in my own city.
There have been so many times when I have confronted a rickshaw driver about a faulty reading and an inflated fare. Few of them deny the allegation; most just mutter under their breaths and accept the actual fare before driving off angrily.
I’m tired of hearing people argue that it’s not worth fighting about, that a few rupees make no difference. It’s not about the few rupees. It’s about not succumbing to unscrupulous means, not allowing the rickshaw drivers to think that they can get away with it.
Yes, the rickshaw drivers have hard lives. But in this city, everyone works hard for their living.
However, on the brighter side, we should be grateful that we don’t have to tip rickshaw drivers in India.
Tipping taxi drivers is a norm in the US and other western countries.
I mean no one tips me for doing a good job, it’s something that is just expected out of me.
And just as an aside, why should rickshaws running on LPG raise their fares when petrol prices are hiked? I mean I don’t see a connection, do you?
(Sujit Anand is a cinematographer. He lives in Belapur)