The Moral Hollowness of Auto Fare Outrage

A while ago, this petition just popped up on my Twitter recommendations: an efficient system to complain against errant auto drivers in Bangalore. I was already having a gloomy day, and this has increased my bile even further. So now I will say this in clear, forceful, and largely impolite terms to all the 1,434 people who’ve already signed and to everyone who’s going to sign in the future: shame on you. Shame on the whole damned lot of you.

The auto driver is an entrepreneur, and a severely handicapped one at that. He’s too small to qualify for decent financing, he can’t run his business without a license (and the number of licenses is capped by the government), and his fares are regulated by the government. Thanks to fares being regulated by committee, they change far too late to reflect fuel prices increases or cost of living increases.

If you’re salaried, would you accept the government setting the maximum salary you could demand from an employer? If you’re a freelancer – writer, doctor, consultant, whatever – would you accept the government setting your maximum billing rate? If you’re an entrepreneur and selling something, would you accept the government setting the maximum price you could charge your customers? If you would, please let me know in the comments why, because I’d love to hear a credible justification for that. And if you wouldn’t, why are you holding auto drivers to a different standard?

You might point out that the licensing conditions mean that the drivers have to stick to the fare, and that all you’re doing is calling for enforcement. Sure. In that case, you have also lost your right to express outrage any time the Mumbai police busts anybody for drinking without a license, or overcrowding a pub, or attending a party where a couple of guests are carrying drugs. After all, that’s against the law too, and the police is just enforcing that.

But we must do something, you cry out, or auto drivers will keep overcharging us.

Here’s the problem: if the something which your petition proposes actually succeeds, it will lead to the limited resources of the police being diverted from clamping down on say, the arseholes who drive on sidewalks or the wrong side of the road, to harassing auto drivers just because you’re unwilling to pay a market clearing price. Moreover, you’re giving the police the idea that you’re just fine with the idea of them harassing independent entrepreneurs, and the government the idea that you’re just fine with the idea of price caps.

But leave that aside. Do you realise what idiots (and I’m being charitable here, I could easily go all Arundhati Roy and use fascists here) you look like when you’re calling the police to enforce a bad law that gives you, living a comfortable middle-class existence, a few extra rupees at the expense of a small entrepreneur without the social security nets that you have? We are rightly outraged if a Vedanta or a Posco takes tribal land, pays the tribals a sum of money far below what it’s worth, and then calls in state government police if they protest. Do you not realise that this is exactly the fucking same thing that you’re calling for?

So if you must do something, here are a few other somethings you can consider that aren’t as ill-advised or morally abhorrent:

  1. Get a better paying job so that you can afford your own car.
  2. Petition for better mass transit options like round-the-clock bus services, more regular bus-services, or an expanded Metro network instead of for police harassment.
  3. Petition for a change in the licensing regime so that there can be autorickshaw fleets the way there are fleet taxis. Why shouldn’t Meru and Easy run autos as well as taxicabs, and maintain a fixed, corporate rate?
  4. And since I’m on a roll here – petition for privatisation and competition in bus operation, so that we have competing bus or minibus operators running defined routes, open to the public.

These somethings have the benefits that they give you alternatives to being ripped off (and the assumption that you are being ripped off in the first place is a questionable one), they make life better for other people as well, and they don’t call for police harassment. Please do break out of your entitled little bubble and consider them.


63 Responses to The Moral Hollowness of Auto Fare Outrage

  1. Saurabh says:

    Have you ever visited Mumbai or Pune or any other city where most of the Auto drivers follow the rate card and don’t overcharge and refuse to ply.

    The problem with Bangalore Auto drivers is that there is just too much demand for auto and people are forced to pay, as they are left with no other option. Also Bangalore police already has a complaint system for overcharging or refusal to ply (by sending SMS), the petition only asks for a tracking number so that users who lodged the complaint can track and see the end result.

    And it’s not like Auto fares are not revised. We have had revised fares almost every 2-3 months.

    If you want Auto fares to be freed from govt. control do something about it, start a petition or whatever you feel is right. I don’t see anything wrong with the current petition which is just asking police to give us a tracking number for auto complaints.

    • Aadisht says:

      I’m not familiar with Pune. My Mumbai experience has been that auto drivers do refuse to ply long distances but in that case are willing to take you a certain way. This is arguing from anecdote, though, and not terribly useful.

      My problem with the current petition is that it calls for the police to put more resources and effort into enforcing a bad law instead of demanding that the bad law is removed in the first place.

    • As someone who knows a thing or two about autorickshaws, I can say that it is the permit-raj which is responsible for poor auto service across the country. Let there be fleet-autos, freedom to buy and sell as many autos as one wishes to, freedom to fix own fares by the companies and individual owners subject to some basic rules, and you will begin to see the change.

  2. Sanjana says:

    Thank you for saying this, and saying it so well! While there are ruthless auto drivers, there are also those who are genuine and honest. What this petition calls for is something not just non-systemic, but potentially damaging any further positive action which could be taken.

    Sharing widely.

  3. Ajay says:

    I think auto prices are low, so before I bought a car, I had a thumb-rule: up to Rs. 20 over the meter fare was acceptable, but I refused to entertain fares beyond that.

    I lived close to central Bangalore for a year. Auto guys refused to go to my place from Koramangala at 6 in the evening. Not only that, they would be rude about it. Once, a driver agreed to come. Then close to the destination, the driver turned around and asked for more. My place was at the edge of my neighborhood and on a one-way which meant a half a kilometer extra drive for the auto guy. I was then accused of lying about where I live (to pay less). If this was a one-off, that’s one thing: similar things have happened to me and other people I know. It’s not just local/non-local: I speak Kannada and can pass off as a local in other circumstances.

    In Bangalore, I think fare negotiations are only part of the problem. There’s a visceral dislike of auto guys’ behavior, with refusal to ply to places being a huge problem. I don’t see why you’d grudge an auto driver a few rupees extra, but rude refusals to ply (hit ratio: 1 in 5 would finally agree at an extra price) make you hate their guts after a while.

    However, I do think that a lot of people do have a sense of entitlement about auto fares. This outrage is a bit much, and reminds me of arbit Hindu articles on this issue, where some uncle will complain about a Rs.3 increase in the minimum fare.

    FWIW, after I started driving, I stopped using autos and moved to driving/radio cabs completely. I couldn’t stand being treated rudely.

    • Aadisht says:

      As a business I have the right to reject customers. In fact, in my day job I frequently do. 😉 So again, I’d like to give the autowala the same right. I agree that the rudeness is a problem, but again, I don’t want the police to get involved in something that is an HR/ customer service issue. If fleet autos ever do take off I wonder if that would fix the rudeness. I’m not sure it would, though – in the search for well mannered and soft spoken employees, the taxi fleet would probably find it easier to attract talent than the the autorickshaw fleet. But I suspect things would improve.

      I guess the sense of entitlement among customers and the rudeness of the autowalas has now gotten locked into a vicious cycle where autowalas and customers totally hate each other. I think the entitlement operates at multiple levels in fact – about fares, not tipping, refusing to consider peak hours/ peak routes as having an impact on prices, and in general the class divide.

      But fixing this needs customer service training for drivers and some amount of empathy from customers – and realistic fares! Getting the police in is only going to make things worse in India, where the police acts as a blunt instrument of enforcing discipline.

  4. Mumtaz says:

    I might be completely off, but my problem simply put, is this.

    When I walk into a store and buy for example a bar of chocolate, I pay an MRP. It is already specified on the product, and I am not paying for it based on how rich I look or which area the store is in. works that way for petrol or a bus ticket.

    Similarly, there is a meter for a reason, it shows me how much i’m supposed to be charged. I don’t care if we seem like a bunch who can afford to pay the auto driver 20 bucks more or less. and like Ajay has mentioned previously, the attitude and refusing to ply even if the place is a bit off their comfort zone, is even more annoying.

    What one chatty auto guy once told me, was that many autos are not owned by them. The owners expect a cut of the auto-guy’s profits, who usually cant afford to buy one himself. so he charges extra for a little bit of the money to go directly into their pockets and not being noted on the meter.

    Anyway, I eventually bought an Activa so I wont have to have endless arguments every day before getting somewhere, i’m sure that’s not a solution for everyone though.

    • Aadisht says:

      Well I’m opposed to MRPs too in principle. 😀 I should mention that India is one of the very few countries that has an MRP concept. But apart from that here are some reasons why the MRP analogy doesn’t work for autorickshaws.

      1. When you buy the chocolate bar, the MRP is set by the manufacturer. In the meter, the MRP is set by the government.
      2. The chocolate bar is a standardised good. The auto ride is a service. Moreover, it’s a service that doesn’t scale very well. If you buy a chocolate bar, there are still 199 other bars for sale for other customers. The minute you get into the rickshaw, you prevent the autowala from taking on any other fares. So charging based on route or ability to pay is justified. Another analogy: as a freelance writer, I get Rs 3/ word from some publications and Rs 5/ word from others. I don’t insist that everyone pay Rs 4/ word, and neither does the publication which offers Rs 5/ word demand that I take 4/ word from them because the other publication pays that.
      3. Where to draw the line between goods and services isn’t always clear either. You get the same coffee in darshinis all over Bangalore, but you get charged different rates depending on area. That reminds me – you pay two different prices in TN in the same darshini depending on whether you sit in the AC or non-AC area.
      4. Incidentally, in my day job, we make industrial goods and we don’t have a standard rate even in those. So it isn’t JUST a service pricing thing.
      5. Agree that buying an Activa isn’t a solution for everyone, but they have other solutions that don’t involve meddling in auto pricing: taking the bus or a call taxi.

      • San says:

        Aadisht, your arguments defending Auto drivers completely disregarding Meters, simply doesn’t hold.

        The flaws are in your parallels. Autorickshaws are not original Entrepreneurs.

        An Auto Rickshaw is a Franchise. Franchise of a Brand – a yellow and black three wheeler, with a Meter. Just like a McDonalds outlet.

        By driving a black and yellow vehicle with Meter, wearing a khaki uniform, they immediately get blessed with the identity of the Franchise – that brings them customers immediately.

        Obviously with that Identity comes the associated expectation from the Customers. That they will run by the Meter. That this is a safe & civil person to ride with.

        There is no ‘Differentiation’ one Auto Driver can provide, over the other. There is only one definition of the Service:

        Taking a Passenger from Point A to Point B.

        I would go with your arguments of Doctors and Entrepreneurs, and their flexibility to set their own prices, if the auto walla, didn’t choose the auto, but any ordinary vehicle, let’s say a second hand Nano.

        And he walked up to each prospective passenger, explaining what he does, why he can be trusted, what price he would charge and why that price is justified.

        THAT would be entrepreneurship, and then they can charge whatever they wish. And ply only on the route of their choice. That would be completely acceptable and respected.

        Your solutions seem to be to “Avoid taking Autos”. If the system is broken, you justify all the good reasons why it should remain broken, and then turn away from it!

        As passengers who do need to take Autos for unavoidable reasons – they are a part of Public Transport.

        Let’s unanimously show our intolerance for the complete disregard for basic rules of the Auto Rickshaw System.

        Only then the Govt. will get serious about making those Meters mandatory and tamper proof.

        Only then the Unions will sit up to their responsibility to counsel the Auto Drivers rather than just make money from them.

        Only then the few good and honest Autowallas will find dignity and respect in their profession.

  5. Eli says:

    You clearly don’t have to take autos because you can ride around on your moral high horse instead. Screaming shame on you and cursing your readers is a great way to get people to empathize.

    • Aadisht says:

      Please read the post carefully. I’m cursing the people who signed the petition, not my readers.

      • PetitionAwesome says:

        Eli nailed it! Couldn’t have put it better – probably one of the few sensible words that I had the good fortune of reading on this post which otherwise was.. well, frivolous drivel.

        Oh well, the only sad part here is that if this petition does bring about a change for the good, smug blokes like you too will gain from it and will never even realize it.

        • EliAwesome says:

          Many of the people who signed the petition are also your readers, so please stop making deflective, ineffective arguments and take a good lesson from what Mr Eli so succinctly and wittily pointed out.

  6. Varun Rana says:

    I totally agree with Ajay…the main problem is the refusal to comply and the rude behaviour. I’ve heard of an old lady being bodily pushed out of an auto after she had handed the guy a 100 rupee note and was waiting for him to give back her change. There is more than one incident that I’ve heard of where an auto-wallah has threatened bodily harm, if not outright murder, to passengers, in my four short months living in this city. I myself have been growled at “yeh Karrrrrnaadakka hai; yaha pe Kannada bolne ka!” (which is a bit weird because obviously, the guy can speak enough Hindi to communicate this much to me; not like I wanted to swap life stories with him. The Lord knows it would have cost him lesser words just to say yes or no when asked). The whole attitude is negative, and barring the few honest ones, every time I have to go out (till I buy a car), I have to mentally prepare myself to be refused by the first 10 autos I ask, let alone timing my exit from the house about 15 minutes earlier than planned to factor in the auto-hunt.

    The problem isn’t the extra money, as long as it doesn’t border absurdity that is. The problem is this sense of martyrdom the auto-wallahs have developed that makes them believe that they can get away with behaving the way they do, simply because they are the downtrodden and look how bad their lot in life is.

    • Aadisht says:

      But if you look at the poster on that petition, the “auto rakshasha” isn’t threatening anyone with violence, but saying “one and a half”. Customers have a sense of entitlement to metre fares that is totally uncalled for.

  7. Nisha says:

    I largely agree. Auto drivers in this city are largely screwed. They need at least 500 rupees minimum a day to pay off their fees to the auto owners. Other cities have done a better job so that the drivers are largely the owners but not in Bangalore.

    But I think you miss the point a little bit. It’s not so much the gouging and the meter but the fact that there is a lot of frustration with drivers and the system as a whole. The meter is a fantastic scapegoat. No one likes feeling ripped off and is the easiest way to express the frustration with transportation in general. And also better customer service would go a long way to make them more sympathetic.

    I worked for Kiirti’s Bangalore Auto Watch ( and wrote a case study about the 300 odd complaints we received. We took the worst (abuse cases) to the transport department and they couldn’t do much. If the owner of the auto gives a fake address the department can’t find them and then the most they can do is charge the owner is 100 rupees per violation.

    In the data also there were patterns of organized gouging in different zones. A common one was an auto will take you somewhere where the meter price is over 100 rupees then when you pay, let’s say 200 rupees, the driver will say you gave him two 20s and that is not the price. Then several auto drivers will show up and bully people into paying the fare again.

    And there is nothing any government official has done about these complaints they go into a black box and nothing happens. So when meter prices go up everyone remembers each time they were ripped off, abused, taken advantage of and knows it will keep happening. Instead of thinking about taking care of auto drivers better and building better transportation you think “well they keep screwing everyone over why should they get more”

    They should get more because they make nothing and are poor and are being taken advantage of. For every time we get gouged they are being bullied by the police, especially when they have to go to different areas where they are not regulars (which is why they don’t go where you want to go.) I have even heard the transportation commissioner say they don’t follow rules because they are poor never mind the fact that their policies are what is keeping them there.

    So yes I agree that people complaining about meter hikes are off base and hopefully the people who created that petition can drive people to care about the larger issues and team them up with all the people working to make transportation in Bangalore better.

  8. meDilbert says:

    Couple of points:
    I have lot of respect for auto guys who earn respectfully but any one will accept there are major issues and looks like you think all the people who are not auto drivers can afford a personal transport even consider plight of people visiting Bangalore for treatment from villages, people fighting legal battle and visiting highcourt from other part of state.

    1. Refusing to ply: Every one has experienced this when they simply refuse to ply. Do you think this can be justified? Recently some laborers fall from height and needed immediate hospitalization auto park was right out side building but they refused to take. The guy had to wait till 108 sent ambulance which did come in short possible time considering traffic.

    Usually when they see a travelers/ family urgently need to go to bus/railway station they harass even more. Does your idea of owning a car and using it work in these situations?
    2. Tampered meter + Showing wrong price chart + asking extra on that is a robbery and yes well off people who can blog will either call cab or take own transport but what about others.

    Also are you aware I can not just go and get auto licences as number is fixed based on reservation? where does your free market pricing? Let Unions agree to let any one qualified to get auto license and you will automatically see there will be reduction in power of fixing price.
    Btw I have never complained about AUTO driver to traffic cops because I thought it was not worth to spoil some ones day for few rupees and I dont sign petition. I like to innovate and address problem and here is my Idea

    • Aadisht says:

      See my reply to Ajay – businesses should have the right to refuse customers. I agree that the Bangalore autowalas are using this right beyond what seems reasonable (as with your example of the injured labourers), but taking this right away in a scenario where prices are fixed by a third party could bankrupt the guy.

      Regarding your concern for the not-so-well-off: if this is truly the motivation, then the petition and outrage should be over the insufficient capacity in the bus system, not regulating autos. ना रहेगा बांस, ना बजेगी बांसुरी.

      Yes, I am well aware of the licensing restrictions – which is why my proposed solutions called for changing the licensing regime so that drivers can be employees instead of entrepreneurs.

      • Rajagopal says:

        If Autos have the right to refuse to ply (they obviously should have that right), then why do you think it is (always) bigotry to refuse to rent an apartment/home to some people (single / non-vegetarians etc)?.

        I can understand that refusing to rent to Muslims is likely because of bigotry – there is a violent history of that – but single people or non-vegetarians are not discriminated against actively by the state like Muslims have and continue to be.


        • Ram says:

          Nice troll.

          We’re talking about the auto driver refusing a fare to a place. This is a business decision – every business has the right not to choose an unprofitable deal.

          Similarly, every renter has the right to reject a low rent, or a renter who may, based on his professional profile, not vacate when the lease ends. Your example of rent discrimination is just that – it’s discriminating based on personal characteristics. That ought to be illegal. It’s only comparable to the auto scenario if the auto driver refuses a fare because you’re single, non-vegetarian or trot out illogical comparisons.

        • Aadisht says:

          Um… Raju, this is not really pertinent to this discussion so I will answer in the mail thread we already have going on this subject.

  9. akanksha says:

    There is a LOT wrong with this post. Firstly, the writer at one point suggests people should buy cars instead of taking autos if the unfairness bothers them. To recommend private transport over public is an entirely messed up thought process. Secondly, there is nothing wrong with complaining against being cheated. If people hadn’t been cheated six times out of ten, they wouldn’t grudge the 10 bucks extra they’re asked for sometimes. Everybody would willingly pay more when CNG prices go up, for example, if they hadn’t routinely been cheated and led to believe that they’re all crooks. I agree that there are millions of genuine drivers out there. I also agree that a small entrepreneur is bound to try and pocket small amounts of money every now and then. But I do not agree with this ‘chalta hai’ attitude. Kirana shops (small grocery shops) are run by ‘small entrepreneurs’ too. They have INSANELY small mark-ups too, being beaten by big supermarts and what not. Does that mean the shopkeeper is entitled to charge you money over the MRP? So what if I can afford it? I don’t earn to enable corruption.
    The auto guy, just like the shopekeeper, is not breaking even. He is PAID for each day he works OR for each hour/kilometre.
    By that standard, the average bank clerk/govt servant who asks for a bribe is also probably less wealthy than most of us, so if I can afford to pay him, I should?

    • Aadisht says:

      I also suggested agitating for better public transport or license regimes. You seem to have missed that. And while there’s nothing wrong in complaining about being cheated, it reveals messed up priorities if you want to have better enforcement rather than to change the law that causes the cheating in the first place.

      Your bank clerk/ government service analogy is flawed. Those guys are employees who have no discretion in what fees to charge. (If giving them that discretion made things better is a subject for another post.)

      When the bank clerk holds up a file if he’s not bribed, he’s depriving his employer of business/ revenue. If the government employee is refusing to work without a bribe, he’s depriving you of what is yours by right. But an auto ride is a commercial transaction between you and the autowala. If he refuses to go, the only loss of business is his own. And if he charges over the metre, well, you don’t have a natural right to transportation.

      As for your protestations of not earning to enable corruption, every time you pay by the metre or demand enforcement of regulations you are reinforcing a licensing and fare regulation scheme that is a delight for corrupt auto licensing officials.

  10. Sayak says:

    Firstly, I’ll clarify that the reason I’m against calling the police whenever an autowallah tries to charge more than mandated is because I realise that the rates are often woefully behind rising fuel prices and the autowallahs have to give cuts to the owners of the auto. That said, if the rates were revised regularly and were reasonable, I would be completely on board. Because, if no limits are set, the consumer suffers. Maybe I’ll be a horrible entrepreneur, but I definitely think a fair price for goods and services is far more “moral” than charging whatever the hell pops into your head. In places like Gurgaon, where we have autos but no fixed rates and lack of proper public transport, autowallahs decide to charge ridiculous amounts of money for ridiculously short distances. If the argument is get better public transport, I completely agree. My parents have worked on transport policy in Delhi, I did some work on it in Pune with a student body I helped co-found and several organisations and activists. However, that doesn’t detract from the fact that autowallahs (and any entrepreneurs, for that matter) should be held to standards. There is nothing “moral” in taking unfair advantage of a situation where the consumer literally has no alternative but to pay an absurdly exorbitant price to get from point A to B. This is cartelisation. Somebody mentioned autowallahs in Pune who go by metre rates. They do, yes. But it’s totally dependent on area and time. Auto rides to a certain place in the day would cost 60 bucks; at night, autowallahs would demand 300 for the same distance, which is quite a lot higher than the “half-return” rate they are allowed by law to charge which is quite fair. I agree with you about the moral hollowness of calling the police and harassing autowallahs when a 5-minute haggling session usually brings about a mutually agreed settlement, I don’t agree that the concept of metre rates and MRP should be done away with.

  11. KM says:

    One reason why government should have a role in the pricing, as well as its enforcement is because autos provide a public service, much like a utility company, and there are limited public transport alternatives. So auto drivers will always have the upper hand in terms of arbitrary pricing. Also auto drivers in an auto stand can collude to inflate prices to whatever they desire and hold customers ransom. Routinely happens outside apartment complexes.

    Since someone brought up Pune, most short distances there are based on completely arbitrary charges demanded by the auto driver. Chennai is equally random if i recollect.

    Long term solutions
    1. multiple private sector auto service providers
    2. better public transport substitutes

    But in the short run, I think better enforcement of pricing is required, either through traffic police or some technology.

    • Aadisht says:

      My fear is that people will keep outraging over impossible-to-implement short term solutions that will distract them from outraging for long term solutions. In this I may have myself become a Sainathist.

  12. Sats says:

    As someone who uses auto extensively in Bangalore (almost every day, in fact), I am always surprised by the outrage against auto drivers on an almost daily basis. Yes, there are some auto drivers who will ask for double or triple your fare amount, the point is to move on and look for someone who will go for a fare you’re comfortable paying. And, trust me, there will be always be someone. I’ve also found that there are certain pockets of Bangalore where auto drivers ask for more. I don’t begrudge an auto driver a 20 rupee price hike as long as he’s upfront about it. It’s the ones who demand extra once you’ve reached your destination that make me all riled up. (Although, to be honest, in the last one year, I’ve only encountered 3 such auto drivers)
    So yeah, all in all, I don’t think Bangalore auto drivers are so bad. Also, encouraging people to buy more cars is not the solution. Traffic is already horrendous as it is. I really like the idea of a private bus service that puts up a schedule online.

  13. Siddharth says:

    Quite a naive view in my opinion.

    Adding to what another commenter (Mumtaz) has said-

    Do you know why the government decided to mandate an MRP on all products in India? And why is it that in most developed countries, there is no MRP? It is a simple micro-economic concept that demand/supply balance can be achieved only when the consumer has an alternate choice. So in the west where a consumer has a lot of choice of retailers and also has a car to be able to reach the cheapest retailer, you dont need to enforce MRP because the retailers are going to compete with each other and so prices will automatically come down (theoretically to the point of zero profit). But in India, where often the consumer in a village has only one retailer, and is definitely not mobile to be able to find a competing retailer, the aspect of alternative goes away. And that is why we have the MRP so that the retailer does not fleece the consumer.

    Related to this point. Why do taxis around the world have fixed fares? Because the consumer does not have a choice in that timeframe when they want to rent a cab. Absolutely same situation applies here.

    And that is the same reason why cabbies around the world cannot refuse to ply to your destination… because as a consumer, you may not have an alternative at the time when you need it.

    And as for your argument of whether one will be OK about the govt setting a max salary for us, they don’t need to do that because professional wages are entirely controlled by demand/supply… and employers have a choice of hiring someone else if I demand an unreasonably higher wage.

    • Aadisht says:

      But forget that. How do you know the MRP is being adhered to in the villages? Suppose I’m a village shopkeeper and charge over the MRP. Now what? In your scenario of the villager who isn’t able to move around, how is he going to get to the police chowki to have the MRP enforced?

      Taxis around the world do not have fixed fares. Please check your premises. There’s also no worldwide rule that says they must mandatorily take your custom.

      Finally, the maximum salary bit:

      If the government didn’t restrict the number of auto and taxi licenses, demand and supply would control fares in those too.

      If the government let in foreign retailers, it wouldn’t have to enforce an MRP.

      See a pattern here?

  14. Sailesh says:

    Brilliant post. This reminds me of the countless times my wife got pissed at me for defending an autowala who refused her a fare, or asked for extra money (this is in Mumbai).

    As a matter of principle, I support the right of every individual / entity to run their businesses as they deem fit. As you have already mentioned elsewhere, this include the right of refusal of business and the right to set the price of the service / product.

    The only cases where a complaint against autowalas is reasonable is when you have been cheated (demanding higher fares at the end when a particular fare has already been agreed upon, stopping mid-way and refusing to ply further, etc.).

    As you rightly said, no one has a natural right of transportation, and the scarcity in this case is entirely government created.

    • Aadisht says:

      Well yeah. But then if the autowala reneges on an agreed fare, or physically threatens you, that is a case for the police and not the traffic police anyway.

  15. bikram says:

    Flawed argument

    If you’re salaried, would you accept the government setting the maximum salary you could demand from an employer?

    Yes, the government does that in the government sector. Remember auto service is a public utility service. Public service needs to be regulated. Even in government hospitals prices are regulated. Its a separate matter that their service leaves a lot to be desired.

    You might point out that the licensing conditions mean that the drivers have to stick to the fare, and that all you’re doing is calling for enforcement.

    Yes if can be followed in Mumbai and other places, it can also be followed here. Period.

    The auto driver is an entrepreneur, and a severely handicapped one at that. He’s too small to qualify for decent financing, he can’t run his business without a license (and the number of licenses is capped by the government), and his fares are regulated by the government.

    Same argument can be extended to daily wage labourers and sweepers. So now is it now the public’s responsibility to give tips to labourers and sweepers every day? Do not take a socialist view on one hand and a market view on the other hand to support your flawed arguments.

    if the something which your petition proposes actually succeeds, it will lead to the limited resources of the police being diverted from clamping down on say, the arseholes who drive on sidewalks or the wrong side of the road, to harassing auto drivers just because you’re unwilling to pay a market clearing price.

    Brilliant. Now you even find flaws if there is someone monitoring.

    But leave that aside. Do you realise what idiots (and I’m being charitable here, I could easily go all Arundhati Roy and use fascists here) you look like when you’re calling the police to enforce a bad law that gives you, living a comfortable middle-class existence, a few extra rupees at the expense of a small entrepreneur without the social security nets that you have?

    Yes I want it. Call me idiot but yes I want it. There are poor people in India who cannot even afford two meals a day. If I have to give Rs 20 extra, let me give it to them and not to a rude autowallah.

    Get a better paying job so that you can afford your own car

    Let me twist this. Ask the autowallahs to get a better paying job if the sum being paid by me is measly.

    • John says:


      This guy stopped replying to posts after your take on his crap.

      He equates the violation of the land rights of tribals to the move to regularise the auto-wallah’s fare.

      Is he genuinely retarded?

      While he’s not sucking on his favorite auto-wallah’s auto handle, he should visit the tribals of Orissa and see firsthand the difference in lifestyles between the barely clothed, under-fed, impoverished tribals on the one hand and the auto-wallahs of Bangalore on the other.

      I’m not saying that the auto-wallahs are super rich, because that would be as ridiculous as equating their plight with that of the tribals.

      What I’m saying is this fool wasted my time and tested my patience with his stupid ideas.

      Whoever is paying this guy for his writing, this is an open lesson as to why you shouldn’t be paying him!

      • Aadisht says:

        Nobody is paying me for my writing right now. Maybe you should investigate more before flinging allegations. And I stopped replying because I was on the road all day yesterday.

    • Aadisht says:

      Yes, the government does that in the government sector. Remember auto service is a public utility service. Public service needs to be regulated. Even in government hospitals prices are regulated. Its a separate matter that their service leaves a lot to be desired.

      There are many reasons why auto services do not qualify as a public utility under any commonly accepted definition of a public utility. I would like the public at large to see these, so I will explain in a separate post, not a comment.

      Yes if can be followed in Mumbai and other places, it can also be followed here. Period.

      Not so fast. It can be followed in Mumbai because Mumbai has a) taxi, local train, and bus alternatives; b) a linear layout, c) population density, d) far more auto licenses. Bangalore will have to replicate those first before it gets the economic conditions necessary to have the kind of price competition Mumbai does.

      Same argument can be extended to daily wage labourers and sweepers. So now is it now the public’s responsibility to give tips to labourers and sweepers every day? Do not take a socialist view on one hand and a market view on the other hand to support your flawed arguments.

      Well, yes, it can – and in my day job I pay daily wagers significantly more than minimum wage because of labour shortage. Also, where exactly have I taken a socialist view?

      Yes I want it. Call me idiot but yes I want it. There are poor people in India who cannot even afford two meals a day. If I have to give Rs 20 extra, let me give it to them and not to a rude autowallah.

      I shall take your intention of being charitable to the destitute rather than trading with the poor at face value. But I’m not sure that the people signing that petition are motivated by such noble intentions or whether they’re just cheap. Which is okay – they have a right to be cheap. What I am annoyed at is that in an attempt to sustain their cheapness or charity as the case may be, they are passing the bill for law enforcement on to society at large. Why should the rest of us subsidise their cheapness/ charity?

      Let me twist this. Ask the autowallahs to get a better paying job if the sum being paid by me is measly.

      What do you think they’re doing when they refuse to go to the place you want?

  16. gopi says:

    Tripe! Thank god this man is not in government.

  17. Naren says:

    Based on your experience in Chennai’s Free-market Auto pricing?

  18. Namrata says:

    Great piece! I think Bangalore needs a lot more outraging over the slow pace of Metro construction and inadequate bus services. Mass transit systems are the only way out for a city of this size. Autos should evolve into a sort of feeder service, offering connectivity to bus stands/ metro stations. They are not very suitable or comfortable for long-distance travel in any case. For those comparing with Mumbai, it has taxis and autos which run by meter and offer to go anywhere because the bus and local train services offer credible competition, especially over long distances.

    • MisplacedAppreciationNotAwesome says:


      Tell me, just because the metro and bus services have a problem, how is it an argument for ignoring a problem existing in the auto service?

      I’ll extend your twisted logic to the absurd – polar caps are melting. Bangalore needs a lot more outraging over global warming. Makes sense to you?
      (Incidentally, it seems our bright author here would take a flame-thrower to those ice-caps if he could, judging from the multiple times he suggested all the petition-signers to ‘get a car’.)

  19. Priyanka says:

    I think it is a little naive of you Aadisht, to imagine people will look for collaborative solutions to this problem when the only experience they have had with auto drivers is nasty. Just the way auto drivers have the right to refuse clients, clients have the right to run campaigns (painting those who have wronged them, if they please, as rakshasas). These experiences are nasty – auto drivers can be rude and can threaten physical intimidation. I think clients have a right to protest—whether their approach works or not, you cannot censure them. It is going to happen, like it or not, and there is nothing morally hollow about it.

    And btw—important question- how often do you take autos yourself?

    • Aadisht says:

      Sorry, no. I can absolutely censure them if their solution is going to make things worse by increasing the level of regulation and government involvement in a problem that was created by government in the first place. And it’s a little hysterical to claim that the only experiences they’ve had with auto drivers is nasty.

      I drive in Chennai (and take autos when I don’t have a car), take the bus and Metro in Delhi, taxis in Mumbai, and autos in Bangalore. Haven’t ever had a bad experience with Bangalore autos yet – but then I value my time enough to pay the autowala what he asks within two counteroffers.

  20. Rajasen sucks says:

    This Raja Sen doesnt know how to review. Again Sen has proved that he is an idiot. This is an awesome movie. Yes it is not for everyone but all critics, including Taran Aadarsh have given it 4-5 stars
    Kudos to Akshay Kumar who knows very well how to take Bollywood to the next level. The film is brilliant and the only people who hate it are those who havent watched it or the ones who like Kuch kuch hota hai.

    • Aadisht says:

      Retaining this comment because I am charmed at the surreality it adds to this thread.

      • SenseOfHumourAwesome says:

        No matter how lowly I think of you (and make no mistake, I do – I really do), I gotta hand it to you – You do have a sense of humour.

  21. Sushovan says:

    I guess you own a car… And I know I am absolutely correct to say that you are one of those arm chair adventurers who actually have idea of nothing. You just believe that if you have a opinion defying the popular ones you become cool, come in the lime light as the one who dared to say or something like “who thought different”, etc. You have no idea how auto drivers harass people, how they take advantage if you get a little late or have a family with you. Tell me that auto fare is 100/- per km and I am ready to pay for it but that should be fixed. You are so regressive in your thought and it is because of people like you that we have no good administration in this country. Auto walas are no entrepreneurs, they didn’t study enough to be that one, they are what we calls “thugs”. And “buy your own car”…You moron do you have any idea of what the traffic condition in Bangalore is, if every one buys a car do you know what would happen to this city… you are so ignorant that these few lines I have written are the most wasted effort of my life. Please stay at your home and surf porn … please don’t blabber like this on the net. You just pissed me off so much…

    • Aadisht says:

      Ah, “armchair adventurer.” I was wondering when that would show up.

      When my company gets an order for urgent delivery, we charge extra because the customer is desperate. So why shouldn’t auto drivers charge more if their customers are desperate? And if you’re happy to pay any fare as long as it’s fixed – have you heard of something called a call taxi.

      And well, I could have advised people to take the bus instead of buying a car. Except that they already have that alternative and don’t take it. The obvious conclusion is that the people screaming blue murder over auto fares are the ones who’re too cheap to pay market prices, too snooty to take the bus, and too lazy or untalented to afford a car.

  22. Arfaaz says:

    The author seems to be confused about the nature of the business in question. There’s a difference between a private business and a public service business. A private business can charge as they like and reject customers at will. A public service business is meant to serve the public at large. And hence must have price caps and regulations which should be administered by the government in the interest of the public.
    Clearly this is a rant of a person who makes (or is born into) enough money is insensitive enough not to be aware of the huge masses of people who are less fortunate.

    • Aadisht says:

      You can’t pull the “huge masses of people who are less fortunate” card and expect to be taken seriously if your outrage is reserved for auto drivers charging market rates but you never sign petitions about the inadequate bus services in Bangalore.

  23. Splic says:

    I agree with your general point about the petition being a lot of hogwash. But I don’t agree that the price people pay right now is the market-clearing price. Even if you were to assume that the higher fare takes into account the price of the license, the fact remains that travelers are not in a position to really choose from a variety of options, so there’s a clear case of market failure here.

    • Aadisht says:

      Yeah, but the market failure is caused by bad regulations. The petition is calling for more enforcement of those bad regulations instead of repealing them. That’s messed up.

  24. raja says:

    Good post.

    I find Namrata’s comment above sensible. It is also a structural solution for the transportation issues of the city.

    Why doesn’t anybody outrage against the Metro project in Bangalore which is well beyond schedule? Bangalore’s citizens should demand better services and accountability from those whose job it is to provide them the service. They pay taxes for this. Have you seen how pathetic the waste disposal system is? Yet nobody is petitioning the BBMP for that?

    Coming to autos, I’m a fairly heavy user of autos since I don’t have a private vehicle. I do use buses too a lot but sometimes I need to take an auto. Yes, I’ve occasionally had issues but nothing that is earth-shattering as such. Yes, if the first auto doesn’t take you, if the second doesn’t, there’s always a third. And yes, he may ask for an extra ten bucks – no big deal, if you know it upfront.

    For every bad experience I’ve had in an auto, I’ve had a good one too. If we treat them as people who are also trying to make both ends meet (with a fair amount of difficulty in these times), they’re not all that bad, you know. I think it is ridiculous that the entire community is being painted as “rakshasas” – there are bad eggs everywhere.

    • MisplacedAppreciationNotAwesome says:

      I thought of Namrata’s comment as an absurd, innocent little joke. It was OK though – there has to be one logic-agnostic person among so many (much like our bright author had been expecting an armchair adventurer).

      But THIS is rare. I am delightfully surprised to find a dolt who actually SUPPORTS the alleged ‘comment’ (I personally thought it was just a funny little combination of words bordering on complete incoherence) of Namrata.

      Dear raja – please read my reply to Namrata above.

  25. Aparna Bhat says:

    Just wanted to put forth certain points about the auto situation in Mumbai:
    1) Even though we have meters, a lot of them are tampered and autowallahs refuse to install electronic meters. The meter rates are hiked every time there is a strike, as Mumbai comes to a standstill without the autos.
    2) Every stakeholder in deciding the meter rates (unions, consumers forums, govt. committee) claims to have calculated the incomes and expenses of the auto drivers and come at a conclusion as to the required fares. However, there is no consensus, as all parties have calculated the incomes and expenses to be something different. i am assuming this is due to the number of illegal expenses involved.
    3) Yes, I agree with you that just like other self-employed individuals, auto wallahs also have the right to determine their fares based on demand and supply factors. While this is the ideal situation which will eliminate the politics and negotiations involved, the supply will significantly increase till autowallahs realize that there is not enough demand for them. And unlike the free market for other goods and services, we can’t have our roads congested with autos, fighting to offer better services at lower prices to consumers.
    4) The consumers are significantly upset about autos refusing them. Despite the fact that auto drivers complain about not being able to earn enough, they seem to always be waiting for some ‘perfect’ distance journey. Thus, how can one improve the quality of the service?
    FYI, i am not taking any stand, just putting across some issues.

  26. Ravi says:

    I use both buses and autos regularly in Hyderabad and used to use autos, buses, taxis and trains in Mumbai till two years ago. My experience with Autos and Taxis has been hassle-free in Mumbai and I can take a lot of refusal to ply (but asking above meter occurred like once a year).

    1) However, market clearing price in a market where there are cartels among the suppliers is surely an inefficient market.

    2) The licenses cap works for the benefit of the auto-driver by restricting the supply of autos. The small ‘entrepreneur’ wants this restriction.

    3) Fares should be increased/decreased more regularly is something that I think everyone agrees on. When the autos of Mumbai changed from petrol to CNG, the benefit was never passed on to the customer

    4) Doctors do not charge (despite being freelancers) 50% of wealth of the accident victim though if purely by market dynamics, they are the sole suppliers of a service (health care) and demand is inelastic. As a salaried employee, I pay tax. Do these ‘entrepreneurs’ also file in their returns?

    5) When Mumbai police busts for drinking without a permit or driving while drunk, its doing what it is supposed to do. If a club/restaurant/concert/party brings in more people that it is permitted, then mumbai police is absolutely right to shut it down. Outrage for me is reserved that we need permits to drink, that getting permits for clubs and restaurants is tough. Also, it is not okay to publish pictures/videos and falsely claim that they were doing drugs (publish pictures of those who were doing drugs not everyone who happens to be there)

    6) I am not sure what ideas I am giving the police but the idea that the autodrivers are getting is that they are above the law. Hence I find that most of the violators of traffic rules in Hyderabad are autos and one auto driver had one told me ‘How dare police ask license/registration details from autos?’

    7) So If the ‘entrepreneur’ does not have a social security net, he can break any law and I should not protest because I lead a ‘comfortable middle class life’? So, in effect, other than the salaried class, everyone else can break the law? Why do you hate us so much?

    Regarding your solutions
    1) Getting my car in a month and planning to choke as much green gases and traffic as possible
    2) suggestion 2 & 4 are contradictory. You can’t privatize and expect to petitions to work at the same time
    3) All in for fleet operations in Autos. I am pretty sure Auto drivers are up against it

    If your goal is to provide access to transportation, I seriously doubt privatization works in buses. Private buses will run well on the high traffic routes are provide excellent service but interior regions are hardly covered by private operators.

  27. Name:Awesome says:

    I have a question for our bright author: even if I was to grant you all the laughable claims you made in your post, tell me, how is a petition for asking for a feedback – just a feedback – in a complaint system “morally flawed”?? It is, in reality, a question of user-experience design. What are you doing bringing so much unnecessary dirt into it, my man?

    Lets say the much-pined-after day comes in India when there is no corruption, auto wallas are polite and do social service in their free time, and there are bunnies flying over rainbows in the sky. On that day, a proper mechanism which gives feedback on your complaint log still makes sense, does it not?

    This petition is valid, no matter what the condition. Your much-abused auto wallas may be inconceivably under-privileged, and we who signed this petition are all people who shit 1000 rupee notes everyday in our toilets, but still – if the auto-walla threatens to beat me up, misbehaves with my sister and gangs up on me, am I not entitled to complain?

    Yes I am. And that is why, there is a complaint system. The only problem is that in that system, I cannot track my complaint. Oops – seems like someone just overlooked that bit. Why not just go and tell them to fix that one small glitch? What is all this ranting in the middle for?

  28. Ushasi Sen Basu says:

    I sincerely hope you’re JOKING!!! It’s obvious to me YOU are rich enough not to have to bother with public transport in Bangalore or your heart wouldn’t have bled for auto drivers. I don’t mean to be rude, but excusing their outrageous behaviour because of the whole have have-not guilt is like saying it’s fine for someone to steal from you because you were guilty of having money in your pocket and the poor thief did not.
    For someone who HAD to take an auto 2 times a day from a remote area to another remote area in Bangalore, trust me it’s not a matter of “a few rupees”. And on rainy days you better have a couple of 100 rupees extra in your bag just so that your poor auto drivers deign to take you. I’ve also had an auto driver THROW away money ive given him and have had 2 of them actually GRAB me because I didn’t give into extortion which believe you me, SHOULD be a police concern.

  29. Sandeepm says:

    Excellent point of view based on economic theory, which most people do not seem to have appreciated. Basically a State controlled vs Free market debate. I would tend to agree that the simplest solution lies in decontrolling both the tariff AND the licencing. Increased competition will keep the pricing in line with what most people can afford to pay. Any other solution is simply not enforceable in our country. That alone should be reason enough to consider this.

  30. Rashmi says:


    I appreciate you taking a stand for people who are under-represented in the blog-o-sphere, but there are some points which I must disagree with even at the risk of sounding like a heartless member of the ‘ haves’.

    1. Comparison Vedanta / Posco = False equivalence. It’s not comparable AT ALL.

    2. Free market entrepreneurs also function in a state of competition; auto guys usually have cartels that decide how much ‘ extra’ to charge people in each area. So much for ‘ free market’ . Also clients in other business are well within their rights to play one vendor against the other, is that likely to happen with auto – drivers.

    3.You can afford to pay a bit extra to the poor auto guy working without social security’ is the worst kind of patronizing attitude. They work and earn just like all the rest.

    4.You seem to think of auto guys as these warm fuzzy types who are just trying to make a living, try speaking to any of your female friends who lives in the outskirts or suburbs and ask her how she feels.

    5. Auto fares in Bangalore are comparable to Mumbai which is far more difficult to live in, but rarely will you come across the kind of drama a Bangalore auto guy will perform even to go from MG road to Indiranagar.

    No one denies that improved public transport is the solution to the problem. Question as always is ‘ Who will bell the cat’ ..

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