Monday 19 August 2013

The wheels of controversy

Love them or hate them but you cannot ignore them. They are here, they are there and they are everywhere. They have made Bangalore as famous as they had made it infamous.
They have both the police and public scratching their heads in dismay, unable to understand what to do with them and more importantly how to deal with them. No Government or agency has been wholly successful in dealing with them or rather disciplining them and they are generally reckoned to be a law onto themselves.
They regularly turn a blind eye to traffic rules and they stop and start wherever they want and whatever point catches their fancy.     Though they have been around in Bangalore for more than six decades, it seems Bangalore was always closely interlinked with them. They have so steadfastly entered into the psyche of Bangaloreans that they are as widely seen and as widely experienced as the City’s famous greenery.
They are famous for not going where you want them to go: rather you have to be prepared to go where they want to go and even they you would not be sure of reaching your destination.
They make a mockery of Bangalore’s traffic rules and they rarely if ever stop where they are given designated places to stop. Their rudeness is as great as their insensitivity and their rashness is as well known as their outright disregard for other drivers on the city’s roads.
They are rated by both the police and Transport Department as a major cause of pollution in Bangalore City and also a very important player in leading to congesting. By their very construction, they are highly prone to accidents and it is no wonder that they are involved in accidents regularly.
They are considered, and this has been proved in many surveys, to be among the major sources of air and noise pollution.
Come strikes, hartals, demonsrtaions and  late nights, they are notorious for charging fare much more than the stipulated rate and woe befalls a person who dares to argue with them. They are the autorickshaw drivers of Bangalore and they are a species on whom almost all Government agency, including the cops, have gone up hope of reforming.
Though it would be patently unfair to brand all autorickshaw drivers negatively, there are only a handful of Bangaloreans who could come on the streets and back them.
Though they first arrived in Bangalore in 1961, the autorickshaws quickly became the most convenient means of transport. The extremely bad service of the erstwhile Bangalore Transport Service, which we nicknamed as Bittare Thiaraga Sigalla, was no patch on the autos.
The failure of the BTS to adequately cater to the transport needs of Bangaloreans and the lack of an alternative gave up a fillip to the autos and in the following decades, several thousands were added to Bangalore’s streets and today they are the most visible transport in Namma Bangalore.
The autorickshaws have weathered every thong hurled at them and they have successfully matched their strength against every other form of transport. First came the new buses of the BTS which subsequently was christened as BMTC in 1997 when it was hived off from KSRTC. The new and sleeker buses of the BMTC was expected to wean away autos from Bangaloreans.
Instead, the BMTC, with ten varieties of services such as Vayu Vajra, feeder, Vajra, Atal Sarige, Metro feeder, Marcopolo, Pushpak, Big Circle, Suvarna and red or blue coloured buses, went into a loss despite having a fleet of 4600 buses and the autos are thriving and more and more Bangaloreans are hiring them.
The second competitor to them was supposed to be Namma Metro. Let alone driving the autos away from roads, Namma Metro stations has autos ferrying passengers to and from them.
The advent of Tata Nano or the people’s car was touted to sound the deathknell of autos but they barely made a dent and today Bangalore has more autos than any other metrorpolis in India and there are more than 1.10 lakhs and their numbers are increasing by hundreds every day.
The autos had a humble beginning and it was more than 60 years ago that they came to Bangalore. The 60s was seeing a booming Bangalore and the City as seeing an expansion of sorts. The then Mayor, N Keshava Iyengar, permitted autos to ply on Bangalore roads. Initially, just ten of them were on roads but soon they caught the fancy of Bangaloreans and hundreds and subsequently thousands appeared on the scene to forever transform the city’s deplorable and highly erratic and inefficient traffic.
The autos first drove away the black and yellow coloured taxis from busstand and railway station and then gave stiff competition to BTS before establishing themselves on the transport map of Bangalore. Since then, come rain or sun, strike or bandh, day night, the autos have lorded themselves over Bangaloreans and made an unforgettable place for themselves.
Autos have now become a part and parcel of Bangalore and almost every Bangaloreans has his or her own tale to relate and they range from the good, bad and ugly about the autorickshaw drivers. But the tales are mostly hair raising and they relate to refusal to go on hire, over charging, abusive behavior and in some cases a handful of autorickshaw drivers taking the law into their hands.
But hold on, not all autorickshaw drivers are bad and I can personally vouch for some excellent drivers. Infact, we hire an auto regularly near our house and the driver has become a familiar fixture. He rarely puts one the meter and we rarely go by it. We are the culprits as we do not mind paying a little extra. All for good manners and a smile. How we wish the other autorickshaw drivers did the same-smile at customers instead of snarling at them and threatening them with a stone as one of them did three days ago and take passengers wherever they want.   

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