Mumbai’s autorickshaw drivers fair,Delhi foul? Cyber debate rages

A recent post on the popular Freakonomics blog has sparked off an intense debate in cyberspace about a subject very close to home.

Written by Mandakini Gahlot | New Delhi | Published: February 23, 2009 1:05:43 am

A recent post on the popular Freakonomics blog has sparked off an intense debate in cyberspace about a subject very close to home.

Titled “What accounts for the difference between autorickshaw driver behaviour in Mumbai and Delhi,” the post has received 68 comments so far. The post says,“According to law,autorickshaw drivers must only go by the meter reading. In Delhi,however,there are hardly any autorickshaw drivers who go by this law,and instead they quote nefariously high prices. In Mumbai though,no matter what time of day or night,the drivers go by the meter.”

The blogger,acclaimed author and journalist Stephen J Dubner,blogged on the issue after he received a letter from an Indian reader,Abhishek Rawat,listing the reasons why he thought this difference exists. “It cannot be a cultural phenomenon. Since autorickshaw drivers consist of the mix of race,class,and caste in both Delhi and Mumbai,cultural upbringing can be nullified as a reason,” Rawat explains. He goes on to give an unlikely reason for this phenomenon — the difference in the level of competition among auto drivers in the two cities.

The crux of Rawat’s argument is that autos form a major component in Mumbai’s transport network and the city has too many of them. Delhi,however,he reasons,is larger in size and the number of autos here pale in comparison to Mumbai.

“I figured that since competition in Mumbai is so high,if all autorickshaw drivers compete with each other to quote low prices,they will all make losses. Hence,they all follow the government mandate and quote prices determined by the meter. In Delhi,where there is not such a huge competition,drivers actually ‘play the customer’ with the customer and quote high prices and attract the ire of the public,” he suggests.

As unlikely as this theory sounds,it has found favour with many of the blog’s readers. Dubner,however,adds his own bit to the theory by questioning if the behaviour of Mumbai’s auto drivers is in keeping with the city’s “professional” culture. “Although Abhishek discounts ‘culture’,this doesn’t mean that a city’s professional culture doesn’t differ entirely from another. Many things happen in New York — jaywalking for example — that doesn’t happen in other US cities,” he writes.

Tarvinder,blog-reader and resident of Mumbai,who has also lived in Delhi,agrees with Dubner and also goes onto place the onus on the traveller. “There are some enforcement agencies that can be contacted,both in Delhi and Mumbai,if the autorickshaw driver refuses customers or does not go ‘by the meter’,however,hardly anyone actually bothers to contact them,” he writes.

Kush,another reader,feels the reason could lie in the fact that Mumbai has very organised auto unions that prevail over the government to fix fares with their interests in view. Once the fares are fixed,the drivers then stick to them. Since Delhi’s unions are more loosely knit,they don’t have much say in fixing the fares and therefore follow an “each man for himself” system.

The “difference in fares” is also widely discussed with most readers suggesting that government mandated fares in Mumbai are fairer than in Delhi.

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