Just Emkaying: A guide to the Auto Rickshaws of India

Feb 2, 2014

A guide to the Auto Rickshaws of India

What a fantastic start to the new year. A lot of new records. Am sure you all saw or heard the interview of the year on a leading new channel a few days ago, or as I like to call it - "Papu panchvi class se thej nahin hai" with Arnab. This was also accompanied by the shortest overnight Dharna involving a CM by the AAP, and of course the highest number of  "Bhaiyon Bheno" speeches by the party that cannot be named.

In the midst of all this, I had the chance opportunity to meet a rickshaw driver who....hold your breath...got robbed by a passenger. He's probably the only one in India, the world even. What makes it more unbelievable is that after dropping his passenger at a posh residence in Bandra, the passenger not only borrowed the drivers phone but also took Rs 100 to recharge. Add the meter cost of Rs 280 (45 minutes waiting for payment) and this definitely has to be a Limca Book record.

This actually got me thinking. Given my extensive experience with Auto rickshaws in Mumbai (2 rides a day * 1.5 years) and Bangalore, and Chennai thrown in I thought it was about time someone made a comparison of the VAST differences amongst them. I've written a bit on my experiences but it's just too many. Theres the spirituality story and the love story, and the happy day driver of Bangalore. There's also the world famous in India guide to choosing the perfect Auto Rickshaw.

But there is no comparison of all three together. So here goes.

Mumbai - Rickshaws are black with yellow tops, usually with cut outs of Bollywood actors in front
Bangalore - Black and Yellow tops, the newer ones have green bodies. Usually seen with lines proclaiming their awesomeness such as "Stud muffin" "Lover boy" "Girl break my heart" or simply "Mom and Dad's blessing" (In Kannada of course)
Chennai - Yellow rickshaws with black tops. Most are usually without a lot of decoration, except the few with Rajnikanth. 

1. Hailing a rickshaw

Mumbai - Yell  "Rickshaw" at the top of your lungs, fight tens of other people who will yell their specific destinations and keep running at any Auto that stops. Problem of Demand > Supply.

Bangalore - Yell "AUTO" and wait for them to stop. Tell him the location and he will decide whether he likes what he hears. If he's not so keen he will charge you an absurd amount. If he's interested, he'll quote a rate or just say sit. Usually, a few more autos will stop by and they'll discuss rates, which is basically ask for more than the original

Chennai - Find an Auto. We'll talk about the rest later.
2. How to know know if the driver has accepted

Mumbai - Usually, they'll just look right ahead. They believe this is a higher order of communication that their brain transmits to yours. Unfortunately, as am not a marathi manoos, I usually have to ask a couple of times and the fourth time they usually go "Haan Bola na" 

There's also the imperceptible head nod (11.2 degrees south east) and eye roll towards the seat behind them. It's an art. And a few more will just start the meter and wait. 

Bangalore - This is the few areas where Bangalore will win. They will usually acknowledge or gesture you to sit in the rickshaw. 

Chennai - See the thing with my time in Chennai is that I didn't know any Tamil apart from Idli, Dosa, Vanakkam and addresses like - Egmore, T Nagar. And I found most of the autos in neat lines in proper rickshaw areas. So that's good. They'll ask you to sit irrespective of what you say, and then discuss location on the way.

3. What happens once in the Rickshaw

Mumbai - Silence, unless you make any sound, like "cough" for example. The drivers of Mumbai have the most amazing stories, trust me. Love, Struggles, Spirituality, Violence, Education, Money making, people seeing Gods, you name it I've heard it. They just want an audience.

Bangalore - I'd advise you not to talk to any driver in Bangalore. In my experience more than once, they'll get you really talking and before you know it the meter has shot up to a 100 bucks and you are still not at your destination.

Chennai - If you are able to hold on to the rickshaw while it "Rajnikanth's" its way through traffic, that itself is an achievement. I once had such a ride that I felt compelled to compliment the driver. That smile he gave me not only melted my heart but blinded me for a couple of hours. 

4. Getting off the rickshaw

Mumbai - No hassles. He will drop you anywhere you want, even on the last feet of a 1000 ft sheer drop. 

Bangalore - They will try to drop you off the moment the highway vanishes. For Example, if you have to go to Indiranagar, 13th main and are coming from the inner ring road, They will start cribbing around the intersection of Old Airport Road. Then want to take a U turn at the first opportunity. And then demand they stop 10 feet before your house.

Chennai - Just give them the cash. Say Thank You, they'll smile. They will crib if you don't know the exact address but will try to help you.

5. Fares and Rates

Mumbai - As per the meter. No hassles. The best part is that if you don't have a couple of rupees change, they'll let you off without even a word. I've had a guy let me off for the full amount because I forgot my wallet. At times you should reciprocate and let change go. It's Mumbai. It comes back to you.

Bangalore - By default the Meter is not used. If it is used the rate card as below 

Guys (speak Kannada) - Actual rate plus Rs 10
Guys (speak Kannada and knows the direction) - Actual Rate
Guys (speak Hindi) - Rs 200 more than actual rate
Guys (speak English) - Rs 300 per km

Girls (speak Kannada) - Actual rate plus "Madam Rs 10 extra please"
Girls (speak Hindi) - Actual rate "Madam Rs 50 extra please"
Girls (speak English) - Random number as per the weather
Girls in sexy clothes - Will quote random number after reaching location and then create scene

Apart from this there are night rates, short cuts which are 5 kilometers longer, and the world famous Rs 500 note trick. You give them a Rs 500 note, and they will act like its a 100 note and demand more. The actual 500 note disappears into regions that I'd not talk about. (A Friend actually got the police to strip him and retrieve the note, and then he sheepishly smiles and said "sorry sir") This has happened to me as well.

If the fare is Rs 301, they will go make you run around for that 1 rupee. Conversely, they will usually rumble around the rickshaw looking for change, hoping you just go away.

The govt of Karnataka has issued a price hike, but this is basically a piece of paper with a number, and corresponding higher number. So as the meter goes, the number is quoted from this sheet. Add a faulty meter, and you have more money to lose.

NEVER allow a "friend" to join the driver. NEVER.

Chennai - I wouldn't know if I am being robbed, but so far, except a couple of times the money was absurd. But because the route taken was very long.

6. Conclusion

I've been so amazed by the Mumbai drivers that I have fallen in love with the stories this city has. By far the Bangalore experience has been the worst. For a city that has the third best public road transportation service in the world, the rickshaw system is horrible. Primarily owing to political vote banks. Chennai perhaps has a very small impact on this write up, given the lesser time spent there. No matter where you go though, stay safe, take down the number of the rickshaw and make sure you talk on the phone specifically giving the number to the other person so that the driver knows it.

Let me leave you today with another tale, albeit from Kerala.

As I got into a rickshaw asking for a particular hotel, the driver nodded his head in agreement to the address I gave him written in "English". However the 20 minutes drive was torture. Constant one sided conversation in Malayalam was driving me crazy, because I couldn't understand a single word and the driver was getting agitated. He continued in this manner faster and louder till finally my destination arrived. 

After taking my money, this is what he said, in perfect English, " When you travel to other cities, you should carry a language guide. Like a English to Malayalam dictionary. Educated people like you should know right? Its so easy"

As he rode off, I stood dumbfounded with the thought - "what a great blog post this would make"

Cheers :)


  1. Maddy..Thanks for writing this! you just took me back to those good old days in Bangalore to remember a few bad old days i had with the auto rickshaw mortals... if i hated anyone from the bottom of my heart - it was them! However, your blog also reminded me of one guy in the same city, who inspite of saying "keep the change" went ahead to ppl asked for change and returned it back saying that he wouldnt accept anything extra out of his income! After reading your blog, i think he shd be either a new driver or someone who just migrated from Mumbai :D

  2. HAHAHA..MAddy..this is really a story..:)

  3. :) enjoyed this so much! Lovely post!

    1. Thanks for dropping by Moonbeam :) Do subscribe if you'd like the other posts. A Share will also help :)

  4. Good one Madan. I see a hidden talent

  5. Goodness.... Cant stop my laugh.... Rofl

    1. Happy to know you enjoyed it Sneha :) Thanks for sharing it as well. There's an email subscription on the right if you would like to read as and when I post new stuff :)