Auto-rickshaw FAQs Part 1: Regulated Vehicles, Regulated Lives
This is the second in a series of posts on auto-rickshaws.
When we launched the mobility study earlier this year, we requested commuters in the city to suggest questions that they wanted to ask about auto-rickshaws and auto-rickshaw drivers. We received a number of questions, some very general and some quite specific, so we have condensed them into a set of questions which we answer here, based on our understanding.
Who are the people responsible for the current state of the auto-rickshaw services? What is the role of the auto-rickshaw service in the urban passenger transportation sector?
There are three distinct actors at the lowest level in the auto-rickshaw segment of the urban For Hire Vehicles market.
Renter-drivers: Occupying the bottom of the ladder, they drive an auto-rickshaw by paying a daily rent to someone who owns one. These individuals are considered transient, having no stake in the industry at large, but are said to constitute a significant majority among auto drivers in the city.
Owner-drivers: either own the vehicle they drive or are on the road to ownership, meaning their auto is ‘under finance’ where they pay monthly installments on a loan taken from a private moneylender. Owner-drivers are commonly people who have a number of years of experience as renter-drivers and have managed to establish working relationships with the network of actors in the industry.
Seths/contractors: own two or more vehicles. They rarely drive and generally lease out their autos to renter-drivers.
Animating these three actors to varying degrees are the financiers or private moneylenders. They exert a significant amount of control over auto drivers and contractors as they are nodal agents with regards to financial assistance for buying a vehicle. Whether, an aspiring owner or contractor seeking to buy another vehicle, one has to rely on the resources of the financier and in the process relinquish control and possession over the different authorizing documents, until the completion of the EMI period.
Regulating movement and affairs within the sector from above are state agencies like the Hyderabad Traffic Police (HTP) and the Regional Transport Authority (RTA). While the traffic police regulate daily on road operations, the RTA has the power to determine the number of auto-rickshaw permits to be issued, the base tariff and so on. The RTA also acts as the nodal office for authorization and validation of different documents required to drive an auto-rickshaw.
What is a permit? How is it different from a license?
While a license issued to an individual authorizes him only to drive the vehicle, a permit is necessary to operate the vehicle commercially. Auto-rickshaws and taxis are classified in the Motor Vehicles Act 1989 as contract carriages. To run them, the RTA issues contract carriage permits. They allow the operator to carry passengers from point-to-point for a fixed or agreed rate in the ‘registered’ vehicle mentioned in the permit system. The permit is valid for 5 years, after which it has to be renewed.
The purpose of the permit is to regulate the number of vehicles on the street. It is meant to protect the incomes of the drivers and to ensure public safety. At any given time there is an upper limit or cap on the number of permits. Under this system, one cannot apply for a new permit, but has to scrap an old vehicle (exceeding 15 years in operation) and transfer the permit and registration to a newer vehicle. The government fee for a contract carriage permit is only Rs 500 but since there is a limit on the number of permits, anyone who wants to operate an auto-rickshaw would have to purchase it in the black market where the price can be as high as Rs 60,000[i] . From time to time, however, citing reasons of demand and requests from various communities, new permits are released into the market. The most recent installment of 20,000 auto-rickshaw permits was announced in GO 90 in September 2012 and subsequently in GO 14 in November 2014 taking the number of permits in Hyderabad to approximately 98, 000. .
What is the process of applying for a permit[ii]?
The most recent guidelines issued by the transport department of Telangana State on 24th February, 2015 prescribe the procedures which hopefully will remain in place for long enough.
Granting of permits is dependent on the discretion of the individual officers in charge of different zonal offices of the Road Transport Authority. In general, the number of permits should be fixed by the government after carefully considering the market, traffic, environment and public safety. If there are too many auto-rickshaws, it can lead to a fall in incomes for drivers. If there are too few it can lead to long waits for passengers to get a vehicle. However, the limit on the number of permits in Hyderabad is apparently not arrived at through any rational formula and is subject to political expediency.
What is the socio-economic background of auto-rickshaw drivers?
A significant proportion of auto-rickshaw drivers come from districts surrounding Hyderabad, while many are local and entrenched in the city. According to union members, most of the migrant population that enters the auto-rickshaw sector comes from Mahabubnagar, Medak, Warangal and Nalgonda districts, a few from Karimnagar and Adilabad, and about 5 to 10% from neighbouring states of Seemandhra and Karnataka (particularly from the Gulbarga-Bidar belt). Many of these migrants own at minimum 2 acres of land in their native districts[iii]. However, given the small size of land holdings, insufficient rainfall and inadequate access to water resources, they are unable to support a growing number of dependents. It is the prospect of a better life that lures them in and since at first auto-rickshaws seem like they only require the knowledge of driving them, they start driving one on rent. A later post in the series gives a more elaborate picture of the backgrounds of different auto-rickshaw drivers and the conditions which led to their entry into sector.
Do auto drivers have any knowledge of transport laws and regulations?
The key instruments of delivery of transport laws and regulations are centrally legislated acts (such as the Motor Vehicles Act 1988), state rules (such as the Andhra Pradesh Motor Vehicle Rules 1989) or transport department specific government orders (GOs). These documents, though accessible online and in print, are available only in English. There are no translated versions of these documents and even if there were, only a small proportion of auto drivers that are English medium educated could access them.
Further, given the absence of any training programs in this regard, by either government bodies or unions, auto-rickshaw drivers learn the basic relevant rules and regulations on the job, through their interactions with government institutions and regulatory authorities and through their occupational networks.
At HUL we are engaged in compiling a repository of relevant transportation laws and regulations and are seeking to make it available in multiple languages.
To be continued…
[i] Interview with leaders of Telangana Auto Driver’s Joint Action Committee (TADJAC) and the Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) affiliated Progressive Auto and Motor Workers’ Union. – 3rd and 13th March 2015
[ii] The permit is just one of several documents necessary to ply the trade. A detailed exposition of other mandatory documents will be provided in a later post.
[iii] Interview with leaders of Telangana Auto Driver’s Joint Action Committee (TADJAC) and the Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) affiliated Progressive Auto and Motor Workers’ Union – 3rd and 13th March 2015
Post by Ojas Shetty with inputs from the HUL Team.
The auto-rickshaw research was conducted primarily by Ojas Shetty and Harsha Devulapalli.