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:

  • Slanderous moral judgements on the character of auto-drivers – they are called “pathetic”, “cheats”, someone even said that it’s because they are “x-prisoners”.
  • Claims that auto-drivers form a nexus to keep prices high – they’re accused of using their strong unions to affect everyday life of the city.
  • And other such arguments which paint the auto-driver as a bully to dutiful citizens in the everyday life of the city – these frustrated customers see themselves as “slaves” to the auto-drivers will, also calling them a “disease”.

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!

  • How many Autorickshaws are there in Hyderabad?
  • How many Autorickshaw drivers are there?
  • Where are they allowed to ply? Where are they NOT allowed to ply?
  • What are the hierarchies that exist within the industry?
  • What is a permit? How is it different from a license?
  • How many Permits are there in the city?
  • Where are the Autodrivers coming from?
  • What do autodrivers think of their role in the city?
  • Who all are a threat to the auto driver?
  • What is the economics of running an auto?
  • When a traffic police fines an auto driver, where does the money go?
  • What is the major issue that faces autodrivers currently?
  • Why are meter rates the same for different kinds of fuels?
  • Why do auto rickshaw meter fares never seem to satisfy drivers for too long?
  • How are meter fares set?
  • What have the last major auto strikes been about?

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.

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9 Responses

  1. Gopalakrishna says:

    How many Autorickshaws are there in Hyderabad? Can you provide a graph chart with year wise statistics?

  2. Gopalakrishna says:

    Can you please provide me the details of the registered vehicles and the growth in Hyderabad?

  3. Gopalakrishna says:

    Can you please provide me information about a case study about an autorickshaw in Hyderabad?

  4. vijaykanth says:

    We are working on the passenger safety application for those who travel in the auto rickshaws. So, could you please provide the details of number of auto rickshaws in Hyderabad ? and the statistics chart of the auto rickshaws ? and also i need information regarding the crime rate against women by auto rickshaw drivers?

    Hope valuable response from your side.


    • admin says:

      Dear Vijaykanth,
      We thank you for your comment. We have made a request to the Traffic Police for data on crime, which they have agreed to give us. We are presently waiting for them to actually send us the data. We will soon publish some useful statistics on auto-rickshaws in the city.
      HUL Team

  5. Abdul Rehman says:

    Dear vijaykanth,
    If u can, please make a app regarding the auto fares and add a field also, that states the legal actions that a person can take if the rickshaw driver rejects to ply the passenger, or scares away the other willing-to-go driver etc

  6. Rajit Nagdev says:


    Just following up on the above Q by Vijaykanth. I am also in need of the data on crime and much more info on autos in Hyderabad.


  7. Vikramaditya says:

    What’s the point of this article ? Regardless of whether an auto is leased or not, financed or not, the auto drivers run a public service. By agreeing to do so they forfeit their right to refuse fares, and are obligated to turn the untampered meter on and provide polite service. If they were pleasant and nice I am sure people will tip them also. But the fact is most are rude, bullies who rip people off and refuse to come even when they see an elderly struggling. I have zero pity for them.

  1. September 6, 2015

    […] 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 […]

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