Over the last few months, the city’s public transport system has undergone some interesting changes.
First was the threat of a strike by autos and cabs. Then came the actual strike. That was followed by a 30 per cent price rise (disguised by deducting a few rupees off the minimum fare).
A backlash by passengers was only to be expected.
Many began to chaff at hearing a ‘no’ for short distances, and, as the general friction between the cab and auto drivers and their passengers reached a high note, campaigns like Meter Jam broke out.
Then came another round of rebuttal from the unions. The ‘right’ to say no was asserted. A regular increase in fares was demanded.
Finally there was another auto strike, which most people did not know the cause of. It was to protest the price rise.
After all this, it’s natural for commuters to demand more when they pay more, besides expecting politeness and correct meters. Then again, prices are rising. And if the Commonwealth Games’ politicians can be greedy, these auto and cab drivers are only asking for a ‘fair’ price for their services.
So could this situation have been made any better? Is there some intangible ‘value’ that we could have created and captured? I would think so.
For example, imagine a culture where we tip our drivers. The interiors of rickshaws could then be tweaked. The driver could experiment with different music tracks, throw in a free newspaper and an interesting conversation maybe.
In fact, a gift economy rickshaw (pay as much as you please) in Ahmedabad even offers snacks to its passengers. The idea, of course, is to improve the travel experience of the average passenger, at minimal cost.
Passengers, for their part, could respect the choice of drivers. They could perhaps give them a candy or a flower — anything that tells the driver that his work is valued.
As childish as this may sound, the idea is to move from hate to love. Change that happens out of revenge and aggression brews even more negativity, with all of us trying to get ‘more’ by giving ‘less’. Gifts create politeness and respect. And that’s where the secret to transforming this equation perhaps lies.
We don’t need everyone to do this. Only one will do. You.
And then the happy driver will be happy through the day, spreading the happiness to his passengers and so on, creating a ripple. An ‘auto’matic movement!
(Abhishek Thakore is a social activist with the Blue Ribbon Movement for social change)