Why do I love Mumbai? If I was to answer that with just one word, then my answer would be “Autos”.
I’ve stayed for more than a year at all the Metros in India, including many other cities. And nowhere have I found the autowallas to be as nice and friendly as the ones in Mumbai. Of course there are always a few rotten apples here and there, so I am just generalizing for convenience’s sake.
Mumbai is one of the few places in India where autos run “by the meter” without even asking them to. I remember how much of a pain it used to be, bargaining the cost before boarding the autos/taxis at other cities. And when you don’t know the exact location where you want to go, that’s a couple of tenners more ripped off your wallet.
In Mumbai, it is pure Heaven - You will find no such behavior. And there is also a very high chance that he will not “take you for a ride”, figuratively speaking.
One of the few places in Mumbai where autowallas will try to fleece you, are outside local train stations and at the airport (arrival terminal). Autos hardly go by the meter from the airport, and they will also charge you a “luggage fee” of an extra 50 (or 100 if you are from the North East or a foreigner). You can solve this by taking a (more expensive) pre-paid taxi before leaving the airport.
Or you can simply go to the end of the airport arrival platform… By the time the autos move forward and reach you (they cannot park there as the cops will whoop their asses), if the driver asks for an extra charge, firmly say no and he will have no other option but to take you at normal charge, after all, he doesn’t want to drive out of the airport empty handed. Yeah, that is my secret and a friendly advice to you all.
Office day’s rush-hour is another difficult time with the autos in Mumbai. I have no problem getting an auto as my office is quite far from home, but my sister who stays within the “minimum fare” limit from her work place, has to be picked up by her colleagues as no autos will take her to work (she works at an SEZ area, so not only is the close-distance a factor, the autos will also not find anybody to ferry back from that place during morning rush hour. And during evening rush hour, there are many autos but none are willing to bring her home as she stays too close).
I love my apartment because our watchmen chase away all the autos parking outside the gate who refuse to transport the tenants. Sure, some of you auto-sympathizers may ask if the watchmen have the rights to do that? Well, first of all, that area outside our housing society is a no parking zone so autos cannot park there in the first place. Secondly, autowallas CANNOT refuse to take you where you want to go [State Motor Vehicles Act, Section 22 (d) 178 (3) (b)] Next time you have a difficulty catching an auto, find a cop and he will make sure the auto take you wherever you desire.
I know most of you Mumbaikars are skeptical about this because you feel nothing will eventually be done even if we complain, but some phone numbers are here in case you ever want to complain. Do let me know if it works.
Dare not say no when “for hire”
PUNISHMENT FOR REFUSING / MISBEHAVING WITH PASSENGERS
An auto driver can't refuse to ferry passengers anywhere, whether he is on the auto-stand or not. Complaints can be lodged at the police station, Traffic department or the RTO office and strict action can be instigated.
A fine of Rs 500 and suspension maybe imposed.
To complain about errant rickshaw-drivers, send in the details on a postcard to the RTO, Andheri or call the Andheri RTO on 26362252 / 26319821. The following details are necessary:
1. Vehicle number
2. Type of vehicle (Auto-rickshaw or Taxi)
3. Date of occurrence with time and place
4. Nature of complaint
5. Full name and address of Complainant
And what about tampered meters? Ah, that you cannot avoid, my friend. It’s human nature, I guess. But I had this conversation with one of the auto drivers once, and he told me that those autowallas who rig their meter do not ply during rush hour! When I asked him why, he told me that during rush hour, most (if not all) people take an auto to a destination they’ve been taking for a long time (office). So the commuters know exactly how much the fare will be, and hence will realize the meter has been tampered with. Wow! Insightful.
Another great misunderstanding about the autos is the “normal rate – night rate” system. I have come across so many people who don’t know how night charge exactly works. Thanks to Matt who told me how this actually functions, I am now a lot wiser. I can’t find any link regarding this online, but since Matt’s dad is an ex-IPS officer, I am taking his words for granted.
Here’s how it usually happens. Night charge starts from 12 midnight till 5 in the morning. Suppose you board an auto at 11:30pm and reach your destination at 12:10, most people usually pay the whole journey charge at night charge. That is completely wrong. And of course your auto driver will not correct you, duh.
Here’s what you’re actually supposed to do.
You board the auto at 11:30pm. At 12, you are still in the auto. You stop the auto, note down the fare amount, then RESET the meter and continue travelling. When you reach your destination at 12:10, you pay only THAT amount with midnight charge. Hence the total amount you have to pay to the driver is the previous amount at normal rate PLUS that small amount at midnight rate. That is how it’s actually supposed to be.
And of course it always helps to carry your own “Night Charge” table in case the autowalla’s version is an altered one.
I always carry this small booklet called “Pocket Local Mail Train Guide” published by Hemant S. Satam, printed by M/s Satam Udyog, which has all the local train timetable, auto and taxi fare list etc. And it cost just 10 bucks! You’ll easily find it at the local train stations. A must buy for everyone.
Another advice: There are those few rotten apples who will try to gobble as much cash as possible from you.
First, there’s the “gas khatam” wala. The moment you step into his auto and travel for around a minute or two, he will suddenly want to fill gas in his auto! And of course he will try to find a petrol pump with the longest queue. This way he not only gets gas (which he may or may not require) but also suck a few cash off your wallet due to the running meter.
Your response? Scream at him, “Bloody hell, you could have told me you were low on gas BEFORE I boarded your auto. Take me to the police station. TAKE ME TO THE POLICE STATION!” He will crap in his pants and gas will be the last thing in his mind.
errr… No gas, just crap.
Then there are those who genuinely need to fill gas. What do you do in their case? Simple. The meter is a marvelous contraption. Just turn the knob sideways and the meter stops running. After he is done filling the gas, turn it down again and it continues from before. Many people are not aware of this option too (yeah, like the auto driver is actually going to tell you what that option does).
And you always have the option to get down and take another auto too.
Then there is the “su-su” wala. He needs to pee. And of course, denying him to pee is denying him his basic human rights, so, again simply turn the knob of his meter sideways while he pees. He will of course grumble, but don’t forget to tell him to at least wipe his hands once he’s done peeing.
And finally, there is the “left or right” wala. If you look dumb or lost, he will definitely figure out you’re new to the place, so he will test your knowledge of the roads. Even though he knows left will take you to your destination, he will purposely ask “left or right”? Here it helps that you know the initial direction, otherwise you are nothing but a lamb led to slaughter. If you know its left, don’t just casually say “left”, because he will test you again later and you may not know then.
Scream back, “What do you mean left or right? Right will take me to the COMPLETE opposite direction. Who the bloody hell do you think I am? I’ve been living here for 10 years (just lie, it doesn’t matter). Trying to cheat me huh? Take me to the police station. TAKE ME TO THE POLICE STATION!”
Believe me, he will not ask you any further!
Yes, it always helps to say “Take me to the police station” because many of these autowallas ply without proper license or registration. They cannot afford to show up there. Even I don’t have the time to go there, but its one gamble that always pays off!
Last but not the least, there are those autowallas whose rear view mirrors (not the side ones) are tilted at an angle. If you look carefully, those mirrors are “aimed” at your knees area. Yeah, those are the perverts. The mirror serve just one purpose – if a girl wearing a skirt is sitting there, the perv of an autodriver gets to lech at her thighs. Always tell him to remove that mirror as it has no role in his work, or play the “police card” again if he doesn’t comply. What if your sister or friend is sitting in such an auto? Would you feel comfortable about it?
Do it for our Indian sisters, brothers.
But no matter how many incidents I have experienced, one thing is for sure – no other Indian cities can beat the autowallas of Mumbai when it comes to friendliness and honesty. Cheers to you guys.