What do you want to know about auto-rickshaws? – Inviting Questions
The relationship between customers and autorickshaws in Hyderabad and other Indian cities, despite the latter providing an essential service, is rather strained.
Looking at the discussion boards on auto-rickshaws over at Quora, one finds scores of frustrated customers. Everybody wants to know why auto-drivers don’t run by the meter? why do they refuse to go to some places? why do they tamper their meters?
On almost every discussion thread about auto-rickshaws, one finds:
These arguments sprout from frustration and indicate the mistrust of the middle-class towards the working class, but they also indicate some grave but popular misconceptions about how auto-rickshaws work. However, besides such arguments, one can also find, on certain threads, more sensible arguments about the financial constraints and everyday compulsions faced by the auto-drivers themselves. But overall, the number of questions being asked – especially the pointed questions about the economy of auto-rickshaws – clearly indicate that the workings of the auto-rickshaw economy are highly mystified.
We are seeking to kick-off a project that will seek to answer some very basic questions about auto-rickshaws in Hyderabad through interviews with auto-drivers themselves, union leaders, regulatory authorities, etd. Do you have any questions that you would like to ask about auto-rickshaws or questions that you would like to ask auto-rickshaw drivers themselves? Harsha Devulapalli, an HUL researcher, will try to find out the answers for them on your behalf.
So far, Harsha has compiled the following questions. Please comment with your questions here or on our facebook page!
Basic Context of the Project:
So why are the workings of this economy so mystified?
At HUL, we recently had an interesting discussion about how autorickshaws might be classified as part of the economy. The best we could come up with was that autorickshaws are “partially regulated private service providers”.
Let’s demystify this basic statement to begin with. The “private service provider”, that is the auto-driver, is not the free agent of a free market as it is imagined. Majority of auto-drivers in Indian cities are ones who rent vehicles from a contractor, to whom they must pay a daily cut. In the cases where the auto is privately owned by the driver, one mostly hears that the auto is “under finance” which means the auto-drivers are still paying off the loan, often to usurous private moneylenders. This figure is not a free agent in the market. In addition, the service is regulated, which means that the government will have the right to determine the number of new licences to be released, the base tarriff, etc. So the auto-driver must negotiate with both the powerful contractor/moneylender and the bureaucratic machinery. But as Barbara Harriss-White, a pre-eminent scholar on informal economies in India, puts it: “Regulation is not…a legal-framework. So much as a political resource.” (BHW, 2005) So these spheres of the contractor/moneylender and the bureaucracy are not separate. Several everyday practices around auto-rickshaws ensue through the informal interactions of these actors. These informal interactions create an ambiguous legitimacy for most auto-rickshaws and their practices, which enables the police (another major actor in the everyday life of auto-drivers) to have their way with auto-drivers by charging ridiculously high fines. It is also the case that these informal arrangements vary in different locations giving rise to services like the share-auto. On the other hand, we must also acknowledge that auto-rickshaws provide a steady source of livelihood for a substantial chunk of the city’s population. It is in this broad political-economic context that the interaction between auto-driver and customer must be read, not as a simple service-provider and customer relationship.
So ask away! To begin with, and for practical reasons, we will restrict our study to Hyderabad. Through interesting conversations with various players involved in the world of auto-rickshaws, we wish to eventually put out some informative and educative material which will be useful to researchers or planners, but also help us generally understand this vast informal economy better.