Over the past week I’ve spent in Bangalore, I’ve come to appreciate the humble auto rickshaw, or ‘auto’ for short. For the uninitiated they are similar to a Tuk Tuk in other countreies. That is to say they are small three-wheeled covered vehicles used to ferry two to three passengers around busy streets and through traffic. This is half due to their diminutive size and the other half due to their driver’s propensity for disregarding both traffic laws and courtesy to their fellow road-sharers. Bangalore has the busiest (and narrowest) streets in India, and the auto drivers are notorious for trying to take advantage of unwitting customers.
That said, they’re an excellent way to access the city. They’re affordable, readily available, and their open-air nature really allows one to take in the spectacles, cacophony, and (sometimes) smells of the city.
One of the perils of being a westerner in India (or really anybody that one can identify as not being born and raised locally) is that often others will try to take advantage of you. This certainly isn’t restricted to auto drivers either, as this will also happen on the street, in shopping malls, at the airport, and generally everywhere.
I’ve jotted down a few notes about hiring an auto to hopefully save the reader a bit of time (and money) when attempting to hire an auto in Bangalore.
- Hiring an auto already pulled over on the street is usually a bad idea. These guys like to hang out where they know Westerners will be exiting buildings, approaching them and offering rides, usually with the phrases ‘auto?’ or ‘auto sir?’. These autos are generally to be avoided as they will rarely ever use a meter, and will not even demand to negotiate price upfront, instead delivering his passengers to their destination then telling them his exorbitant fee. If one must hire one of these autos, it would be prudent to negotiate the rate beforehand. Due to recent police decree, all businesses in Bangalore must begin shutting by 11, which means auto drivers will have the advantage over nearly-stranded travelers. I’ve been charged 500 INR for a simple ride to an adjacent part of town, and even then the auto driver didn’t know where Residency Road was!
- The best way to hire an honest auto is by either flagging one down (same as a taxi) from the street, or approaching one as the previous occupants leave. This has the highest probability of the auto driver activating his meter without persuasion.
- Often times auto drivers will not know the exact destination given to him if it is the exact address of an establishment or the name of an establishment. Street addresses in India are not as defined and standardized as in many other parts of the world, and as such are rarely listed in a visible place. Therefore using them as indicators is a futile effort. Instead, try telling the auto driver which neighboorhood to go, then drill down to more accuate directions. For example my hotel would be ‘Jayanagar, 4th block, 9th main, 40th cross’. This will let the auto driver know which direction he should be headed, then when he gets there the directions will culminate to a very close approximation to the destination. Tell the driver the name of the destination and help him look for the signage. Once found merely point at the destination. This is an ideal scenario however, since not many neighboorhoods seem to advertise their blocks, mains, and crosses as well as Jayanagar. When this method is not employable try a nearby landmark.
- My favorite landmark to use is a hospital, since drivers are often sentimental people it will also make it more likely they will use a meter. My conference was at the NIMHANS Hospital Convention Center, therefore every day between my hotel and conference I hired an auto, and all but two days they used a meter AND took a direct route! This requires a bit of forethought as an understanding of the surrounding area and where the destination is in relation to the landmark needs to be known.
- It is possible to rent an auto for a certain preiod of time (minimum is usually an hour). This allows ‘tour rides’ in autos, which can be a great way to experience the city.