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Auto rickshaws the lifeline of India

Auto rickshaws the lifeline of India
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Auto rickshaws are a common means of public transportation. There are called by different names all over Asia such as three-wheeler, tempo, tuk-tuk...

Auto rickshaws are a common means of public transportation. There are called by different names all over Asia such as three-wheeler, tempo, tuk-tuk (in Thailand), trishaw, autorick, Bajaj (in Ethiopia), rick, tricycle, mototaxi, baby taxi, lapa. An auto rickshaw is usually a three-wheeled vehicle for private use. It is a motorised version of the traditional cycle rickshaw. “Auto Auto”. The passengers would call out loud and clear. The yellow autos spring into action immediately. Autos are India’s lifeline.

In a country where public transportation is either scarce or over crowded autos provide an easy, cheap and an affordable way of travel. They have become inseparable with the Indian culture. Autos have been associated with India and Indians. Right from the time when a traveler lands in the city to the time when they leave, autos become a part of you. Autos come in many shapes and the drivers can be as colorful as the auto itself.

Auto drivers can be rude, friendly, and smart or just like any one of us. They might be willing to ply on the government regulated fare, demand a hefty premium (extra) on the metered fare or simply demand a flat amount. They can be eager beavers smartly hailing you the minute they see you. Or they could be lords of all they preview – refuse to ply even you go up to them and plead your case.

Your amazement would double when you see them still in the stand on your return trip. They just don’t seem to care or mind. Let us see how the auto rickshaw owners have used innovative marketing to make more money or just stay ahead of the competition.

Autos as moving advertisements: Many auto drivers use the back side of the auto as a space for advertisements. Autos being numerous are a very good method of promotion. Placing tourism brochures, brochures of hotels, visiting cards of shops selling trinkets and souvenirs in a pouch in front of the passenger seat also have been tried by enterprising auto drivers. Autorickshaw advertising is a cost-effective method of promotion for small companies and an extra source of income for auto-rickshaw drivers.

For the movie “3 Idiots”, Aamir Khan got stickers pasted on the back of auto-rickshaws in Mumbai to market the film. The stickers read “Capacity: 3 Idiots Only”.The makers of the movie “Luck by Chance” started a campaign in Mumbai by branding some auto-rickshaws as ‘Auto By Chance’ and those, who spotted these autos, were given free rides anywhere in the city.

Stage carrier instead of a contract carrier: According to government rule autos are contract carriers and not stage carriers. Autos can take passengers from one destination to other and can’t pick up passengers from one bus stop and drop them at another bus stop.

But many autos have become stage carriers and compete with local city bus service for the passengers. This is not legal but prevails in many parts of India. In many cities these autos are the only form of transport that the passengers can avail. They are often named as seven seaters, vikrams, sharing autos these are very popular.

Carry school children: Many auto drivers have fixed income along with variable income. This is to buffet themselves from the vagaries of nature and sudden fluctuations of income. They drop children to their school on a monthly basis, this assures a monthly business but the auto driver is tied up with a route on the morning and in the evening and this inhibits his flexibility and the routes that he can ply.

Call auto service: Prevalent in Gurgaon and now catching up all over India, call auto service is a new innovation. These auto drivers are better behaved, have genuine auto meters and will pick you up from your residency. They would charge the same fare as regular autos or charge a small premium.

Flat amount charged per day: (double up as a tourist guide): Very popular in the tourist destinations the auto can be engaged for a fixed time and fixed amount, let’s say 400/- rupees and 4 hours and 40 kilometers. The auto can be used anywhere in the city and the bonus is that the auto driver would become the tour guide.

Monthly contract: An interesting variation, which was deployed by one of the territory managers that I worked with at Network limited. This TM had employed an auto driver on a monthly basis. The auto driver had become so smart and so well versed with the happenings of the company that he became the personal assistant of the TM. Autos are also hired by companies for canvassing their products and services. A person with a loud speaker would slowly go from one locality in to another in an auto canvasing and displaying the products and explaining the services.

Conversion of old motorcycles such as Harley’s and Enfield bullets as autos: These converted autos called PhutPhuti (converted Harley Davidson and Royal Enfield bullet motorcycles) would chug along making “PhutPhut” sounds. This amazing contraction had the driver on his seat totally exposed to the elements of the nature. All his passengers would sit behind him. They are well protected and had a shade over their head. The PhutPhutis are no longer being used as they were not very stable and causeenormous environmental pollution.

Interesting Product Innovation - Battery Powered Autos: The battery powered cars originally costing around 600 dollars (costing around 36,000 rupees) in China retail around 95,000 rupees in India. These new additions on Indian roads are quite an attraction. The driver uses sealed lead acid batteries and the battery can give 80 kilometers on a full charge.

These cute looking new vehicles are sleek and are very light and can easily carry 6 people. These silent vehicles are agile and are loved by the passengers. These battery cars operate as stage carriers and are taking business away from the regular auto rickshaws.

These vehicles are not registered and the drivers need no license to drive them. No doubt these new additions to the roads are welcome but rules should not be relaxed or totally done away with. The new vehicles should be registered and they should adhere to the rules to which the other vehicles are subjected to. Mostly these battery powered autos are seen on the roads of Delhi.

This mode of transport should be allowed to come to other part of the country. These can be used by commuters who have to travel for a short distance of say about one kilometer. The commuter could be charged Rs 10/- rupees for a ride. At that price it could be a win-win for both the driver and for the commuters. The battery cars can be used for many other applications like golf carts. They can be used in the airports, in the university campuses and by post men.

They can replace cycle rickshaws. The energy of the cycle rickshaw driver can be conserved and he could go home happy at the end of the day. The Kolkata government could gift these to the poor human driven rickshaws pullers. A human pulling other humans is a practice still prevalent in the streets of Kolkata. These can provide a module of decorum and dignity to these human rickshaw pullers of Kolkata.

These battery driven cars could be liked by the tourists. These are absolutely safe and travel very slowly. Tourist who want to take as much of the city as possible could find these as a boon. But care should be taken that the tourists are not fleeced. Prominently displayed rate cards can be a solution. If the above precautions are not administered these could become the next tuck-tucks the very prominent land marks of Bangkok but feared as they are known to fleece the commuters a la the auto rickshaw drivers of India.

By:Dr M Anil Ramesh

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