Thursday, September 4, 2008

Colours of friendliness

Autorickshaws are India's unique contribution to the world of vehicles. I can't think of a similar vehicle in any other part of the world. Though the tricyles of Philippines (pictures from Butuan and Manila) come somewhat close, they are modified two-wheelers rather than 3-wheeled vehicles designed specifically for public transportation. The similarity comes more from the attitude and traffic sense of the drivers, apart from the function that the vehicles perform. The autos - or ricks - across India are painted black with a yellow stripe around the middle of their body. It is only in Tamil Nadu and in Andhra Pradesh that these vehicles are painted highway yellow with a green - or black or red - stripe. I'm sure the colour of the stripe has some significance to those in the know, but it does not seem to have any connection to the attitude of the driver or the accuracy of the fare meter. Auto drivers across the country have their own definition of customer service and friendliness, besides independent interpretation of how the official rates have to be compounded when picking up a fare.

Chennai's autos have earned an especially bad reputation. Visitors to Chennai arriving at the Chennai Central or the airport will be completely thrown off whack by auto drivers who appear to be militantly uni-lingual, speaking Tamizh and refusing to understand any other language. And the rates, of course are doubled or even trebled - if you are a first-time visitor, you could not have imagined a worse way to be introduced to the city. It is not as if the autos in other parts of the city are saintly; only that you have a better chance to haggle over the rates. There cannot be anyone in Chennai who can claim that the overwhelming majority of their experiences with auto drivers has been good; at best, there is a grudging acknowledgement that one can get lucky sometimes. Many efforts have been made to counter the notoriety - regular reports in the papers about honest auto drivers, movies showing them as regular guys, encouraging women auto drivers - but they've not succeeded in any significant way. Chennai's autos are a law unto themselves.

One of the most visible efforts is the introduction of 'Tourist Friendly Autos' - identified by their lighter colour and the tourism related pictures and logos on their body. Begun about 4 months ago with a batch of 39 specially screened (and trained) drivers, this initiative of the Tamilnadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) has grown to include about one hundred autos in Chennai and quite a few in other cities also. The TTDC has a list of the first 39 on their website, but they seem to be quite wary of adding to that list!



9 comments:

Ravindran said...

I remember reading sometimes back that they sold some autos in UK.Dont know whether they r still running now.
some vehicles like cycle rickshaws which are called pedicabs are said to be plying in US.

Abu Dhabi/UAE Daily Photo said...

I love those tuk tuks!

Ravindran said...

Pedicabs are plying in Lousiana

D.C. Confidential said...

Ravidran is right: Pedicabs are seen more and more in America's big cities. Mostly they're used for shuttling tourists around and are a novelty rather than a necessity or practical conveyance.

One of the worst movies with the best scenes involving an autorickshaw chase was the James Bond film "Octopussy." Horrible movie (bad acting, etc.), but wonderful chase scene as only James Bond films can do!

Sometimes I don't, sometimes I do said...

>> Ravindran>> But as DC says, they seem to be more for curiosity value than regular use, in the UK too.

>> AD/UAE DP>> But not the haggling, I hope! BTW, hardly anyone here calls them tuk-tuks... the closest I've heard is phat-phati, but that was in Delhi...

>> DC>> Now, that was a chase! And the auto was on 2 wheels for most of the time, if I remember right!

Also: Do visit Ming's New York City DP for a picture of tricycles (what we would call cycle-rickshaws here), at: http://nyc2dailyphoto.blogspot.com/2008/08/tricycle-taxi.html

Sometimes I don't, sometimes I do said...

Ooops... just realized I did something wrong with the HTML tags for the link in the previous comment... until I set it right... please copy/paste link in address bar.... sorry!

Sometimes I don't, sometimes I do said...

I hope I've got it right this time: Here's a picture of tricycles in NY city

sansmerci said...

gr8 thats good news .. don need to listen to cribbing bout hcennai auto drivers from tourists nemore .. hmm i guess.. don think so!

about sulekha sorry i mistook u for someone else.. n chennai.burrp.com i think u deserve to write more on it .. u seem to kno quite a lota info and write awesome.. hope to c u on there sometime :)

Sometimes I don't, sometimes I do said...

>> Sansmerci>> Hopefully the cribs will come down, but I'm not going to bet on it. As for writing more... ah, well!