They are noisy, cheap, ubiquitous, dirty, crazy and yellow. And necessary.
As the title of this posts implies, “they” are autorickshaws.
And they are presenting me with a unique paradox.
Anyone who has traveled in India will understand what I am thinking tonight. The autorickshaw is a necessary evil in my new Hyderabad life. I am staying far enough from the office such that I can’t walk, and there’s no reasonably easy / safe bus route to take me, either. Cabs are too expensive and frankly, the cab companies don’t like to dispatch their guys out here, either! So it’s either a 2-hour walk to the office, or a 20-minute ride in an auto (local shorthand for autorickshaw).
I also take autos to dinner, social events, business meetings, to the park for a run…you name it. So I probably ride in an auto on average 4-5 times per day.
Of course, autos are metered, and they’re relatively cheap. 12 rupees is the drop rate, and the rate goes up by distance traveled or waiting time. Basically, it’s a New York City taxicab except without doors, air conditioning or the annoying TV advertising thing blaring at you in the backseat (thank god for the off button in NYC cabs…ugh). South Asian drivers talking on hands free cell phones…well you didn’t hear it from me, but it’s certainly 1 similarity between the two cities.
Anyway, back to my point…the meter. It is a wonderful thing because you know you are being treated fairly. But that’s just not how it happens. If you are a foreigner, the auto driver will claim that the meter is broken, kicking off a negotiation. Now I love to negotiate, but this is annoying. I know they are trying to rip me off, and I hate getting ripped off. I know that a fare is supposed to cost about 40 rupees – when the driver asks for 150 rupees, I am offended. This happens at least 4 to 5 times a day…so after 3 days, it’s already gotten pretty old.
Am I right to feel so indignant? Or is it just the market at work, setting prices based on slightly more perfect information? After all, I AM a foreigner and I can – based on my appearance – afford to pay a 2x-3x premium for auto rides. Yes, it adds up and yes, it is irritating…but really, I wouldn’t notice the difference in my retirement account or anything…we’re talking maybe 250 rupees per day – a shade over 5 dollars’ difference.
So the economist in me sees some beauty in this. And the ethicist / development person in me sees the auto drivers as very poor. Studies show that auto drivers make around $4 per day, after costs, which puts them squarely in the “bottom of the pyramid” market segment I am committed to serving. As such, should I mind paying a little extra if I know that it’s going to a low-income family whose primary wage earner is so earnestly trying to rip me off?
It’s tough. I haven’t figured it out yet. But I’m thinking about it…and I’m also thinking about finding alternative transportation. Or is that just a cowardly way of avoiding the Autorickshaw Paradox? We’ll see.