Tips for Traveling by Auto Rickshaws in India

auto-rickshaw

auto-rickshaw

In my previous post Ride in an Indian Auto Rickshaw for a 3 Wheeler Roller Coaster Ride, I described what an Auto Rickshaw is like, the availability of Rickshaws as a mode of transport in India and the experience of riding in one. If that hasn’t scared you off Autos, then this post surely will…Just kidding!

Autos are a great way of seeing a city. Their less expensive than taxis and unlike buses, they take you to the doorstep of your destination. They are awesome for high traffic areas where they manage to effortlessly wiggle their way through traffic and get out of seemingly impossible jams. Though the auto wallahs driving skills may seem suspect to you, they do know the roads and the traffic…and they drive it as they seem fit. Their business ethics however there lots to be said. Millions of Indian’s use Rickshaws daily so it can’t be that bad. It takes a little getting used to. It’s always scariest the first time on a roller coaster but the second and third time you start enjoying the ride…it’s the same with auto-rickshaws…except you may not enjoy it but you’ll certainly get used to it.

So here are few tips to avoid being ‘taken for a ride’ (pun intended) while traveling in Auto Rickshaws in India:

The Meter

As mentioned in my previous post, all auto rickshaws supposed to have meters calibrated according to the city guidelines but many don’t have a meter at all or if they do, they often don’t use it and make up their own fares.

Reading a Rickshaw Meter: is deceptive to foreigners because though it says Rupees and Paise on the meter…that’s not what it means. There is an initial charge at the beginning of a ride, then the price normally increases in proportion to the distance which is what the meter measures.

It’s best to ask for a conversion card known as a ‘tariff card’ before paying up, which converts the reading of the meter to Rupees and tells you your exact fare.

If your Rickshaw doesn’t have a meter: negotiate a price before you accept their service. It’s good to know the general rates in the area before negotiating with them. But never make the mistake of reaching your destination then asking how much, if there’s no meter…that’s just asking to be fleeced!

Opt for a ‘Pre-Paid’ rickshaw at Airports or Railway stations. Rickshaws at these places are notorious for going by their own fares and refusing passengers if they don’t want to go a certain distance. So the traffic-regulating authorities have implemented pre-paid services to prevent such incidents. In this way you a pay predetermined fare to a central authority before boarding the auto rickshaws, which have to take you to the destination.

If you are traveling to remote areas, auto-wallahs claim that they will have to drive back empty exactly to the point where you were picked up, so they ask for double the fare on the meter for their return. But be careful and ask around about where your going, because to a rickshaw driver, your destination will be deserted even if it’s in the heart of a city with over 5 million people in it! By law, no driver can charge you more than what is being displayed on the meter, except at night and for extra baggage.

If you are traveling at odd hours, rates will suddenly go up by double or triple, as the auto-wallah knows you need them more than they need you. While the rule is that the fare doubles after midnight you’ll find autos applying the rule earlier especially if there’s not many of them on the roads at that time.

Since the meter goes by distance your auto-wallah will take advantage of this and if you don’t know the way it’s hard to catch them doing so. So if you look like a tourist, don’t know the local language or roads, expect to be taken on a local sightseeing tour, even if your destination is only the next street!

Other Tips while Traveling by Autos

Keep all part of you body well withing the cabin. That means no sticking your hand out or letting your knee stick out the side and a big NO to poking your head out to get a better look. That is, if you value these parts of your body and don’t want them banged scrapped or poked by passing vehicles.

If you are more than 3 passengers (in some cities only 2 permitted),the driver may agree to take you all for an extra sum. But beware of the traffic police. You could be fined, or if lucky,let off if you feign ignorance. But it’s better to take two rickshaw or a taxi instead as it’s an uncomfortable ride with any more an 3 adults.

The auto is a small vehicle, and you are seated at a level where you breathe in the exhaust fumes and dust from buses. Keep a clean hanky (handkerchief) to cover your face or you could end up with a bad case of asthma.

Those with a back problem, use only autos which look relatively newer, make less noise and have their engine at the rear instead of the front. A normal auto ride is bumpy, drivers don’t slow down on speed-breakers, and might ride intrepidly over potholes.

Carry loose change and smaller notes while traveling by rickshaws, cause no matter how many runs the auto wallahs may have had before you, they invariably never seem to have any change. An easy way to make a few extra bucks for them, is to get you to round up the fare.

In a lot of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) Rickshaws you have to put up with blaring bollywood music coming from the super cheap speakers stuck in the back behind the passenger seat. Some flat out refuse to switch it off or lower the volume even if asked politely.

The horn is one thing used as frequently as the driver breathes, even the brakes aren’t used as much.

Minor break downs are quite common and most of the time you’ll just have to find another rick.

There’s no custom of tipping auto wallahs in India. Sometimes people do let them keep the change especially if they’ve been polite and driven carefully, obeying all the traffic rules and when the don’t ask for any extra. It’s a matter of choice. But remember tipping rude, obnoxious auto wallahs that break traffic signals and rules as a tourist is not a good habit to get them into for the rest of us using rickshaws daily as tit only encourages their behavior.

Keeps these Tips in mind and you’ll have a better time traveling by an Auto Rickshaw any day!