By Pooja Roy:
In a hurry, you head off to the road, wave, and ask an auto driver “Bhaiyya, Sony World signal?” Pat comes back a straight faced reply, “50 rupees madam.”
Perhaps, we can afford to pay a few extra bucks when we are pressed for time. But, every time one pays, it pushes another who can’t afford to, to pay too.
I discovered that in a few localities of old Bangalore, autowallahs dare not ask for more than what is charged by the meter. So, it is not that the fare is inadequate, or the meter is not being updated with the fuel prices, it is bribery. Our negligence gives leverage to the drivers.
Dr. Huzaifa Khorakiwala and a young author and philanthropist Anil Shetty, have tried to play their part to stop this pandemonium. Dr. Khorakiwala, a scholar and a caring philanthropist, initiated “The World Peacekeepers Movement” in collaboration with the United Nations. Together with Anil Shetty, he launched a campaign named “Peace Auto” to alleviate this rolling problem of auto fares in Bangalore. With the Sanskrit phrase “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The World Is A Family) as the tenet, Peace Auto aims at bettering the relationship between auto drivers and passengers.
Following are the goals of this initiative:
Upon asking, one Peace Auto driver mentions that he makes more business and gets more rides than normal autos. On top of it, he feels relaxed and assured of his steady income. In contrast, his friend, the driver of a normal auto, always feels anxious about the gamble of saying yes or no to the customers, considering the distance to travel, the fare to be asked, and the profit he might make.
According to the Peace Auto driver, it is like having to choose from a cupboard full of clothes and having to spend a lot of time choosing, but still being anxious about the choice of the attire for the day. He would rather have a compact closet to concentrate on the main job at hand, i.e. to drive auto to earn a living.
There are about 250 Peace Autos near the place I live in Koramangala. As the manager of the auto stand says, most of these autos are out driving as they are in high demand. There is usually a queue around 9 in the morning to serve passengers who take auto as a regular mode of transport. He adds that most of the drivers feel contend and happy, which makes the daily earnings worthwhile.
He mentions that it is beneficial for drivers also. A normal auto driver has to pay 200 rupees every day to the owner, taking away a major portion of his daily earnings. Peace Autos pay only half of this. Also, the Peace Autos have proper papers and thus don’t face police harassment. Peace Auto also provides insurance and medical benefits to the drivers, restoring the dignity of labour involved in the profession.
During another ride in a normal auto, I asked the driver if he knows about Peace Autos, to which he replied with a no. Upon explaining, he seemed interested and exclaimed that though he would like to switch over, the decision would be the owner’s to take. I do not know if many autos will switch over, but what I take back from the goals of Peace Auto is a resolve to not give in and pay that extra buck. Asking for more than the just fare disrupts the ease of transport and abates the honor of the profession. We are not really helpless any time, we always have the choice!