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:
- Get a better paying job so that you can afford your own car.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.