Unless you’ve been living under a rock you probably know that today is MeterJam day. Basically we tell it to the auto guys who rip us off on a daily basis. Now I pretty much jumped for joy when I heard of the idea. Is it workable? Not really. How are people supposed to commute if they don’t take autos? Those who takes autos are usually those who have no other option.
Now while I was beaming from ear to ear I read a couple of posts and realised that a lot of people have a different point of view. I see the validity of some of their points. But I also disagree with a lot of their points.
For one, I disagree with the assumption that its a bunch of spoilt brats creating a ruckus. Spoilt brats are not taking autos. They drive Papa’s BMW over pavement dwellers. People who take autos are those who can’t afford their own cars or are on a route that doesn’t have proper public transport. Perhaps they are even those who can’t afford a car but can afford a little more than a bus ticket and choose to sit in comfort instead of having their noses jammed in someone’s smelly armpit or someone’s crotch pressed into their back. What harm is there in choosing to take an auto if you can afford it? Aren’t we also working to lead more comfortable lives ? I mean isn’t that what gives the auto guy his custom? I don’t get the whole holier-than-thou argument of ‘walk’ or take other public transport. Autos are completely legit means of transport. Its what they charge that is pretty illegitimate.
Next point for those arguing for the auto guys. ” Poor guys. They are so poor. This is their livelihood. Why grudge them Rs 30 that you would spend on a Pepsi without thinking?” To which I say, hell, I don’t spend on a Pepsi without thinking, so speak for yourself. There seems to be some confusion over whether the auto-users are rich or poor. Rich people rarely take autos, my friend. And they probably spend thousands without a thought. They’re are not the people you should be talking about anyway.
Why should I feel beholden to give him extra just because I slogged ass and earn more than he does. Do the Tatas or Ambanis feel obliged to give me some because I make less than them? There is then the matter of choice because you know, its MY money. IF I can afford it, I might choose to pick up a beer, a movie ticket or a Pepsi. Its a luxury. I don’t have a choice when it comes to going to work though. Sometimes the closest metro station is just short of a km from my office. With my knees, I am lucky if I can even walk half that distance without dying of agony. But this is not me. In every city, there are thousands of routes that the buses, trains and trams don’t navigate. How does one propose we travel if not via auto? What about those other than me who cannot take a bus for some reason? Pregnancy, people with ailments, people who are late for a meeting and don’t have the luxury of waiting for a bus that will take them on a 1.5 hour ride around the city before reaching their stop. And what is with the whole ‘use public transport’ argument?
Aren’t autos are an essential part of public transport? Don’t they need a licence from the government to run one? Aren’t there rules governing them? Why don’t we pay extra to bus and train drivers who often run extra shifts without getting any extra credit for it? I am not asking you to deny them their right. I am willing to work with the government or whoever else is willing to help, and work out a rate that is suitable to both parties. Hell, I am willing to pay the rate given on the chart. How in this case, am I the aggressor?
This will lead to the argument that they don’t own the autos they drive and there is a rampant auto mafia blah blah. I get it. And I feel for them. But if that is the case, go get those bad guys and maybe work out a different way to help auto drivers. A more legal way. Why make me pay the price for the situation? Most of us are regular service class people, struggling to better our lives too. Struggle means different things to different people, but I’ve never bought the theory that those less fortunate have no pride or honesty. I am also up half the night and sleep deprived and stressed out because of my job. Is that reason enough for me to cheat? Would you buy it if I cheated you of something and said oh, you know, my boss doesn’t pay me what I deserve? Dude, take it up with the boss. It is every autowala’s dream to own his auto. It’s also my dream to own my own magazine and my own home. At the moment I am underpaid at work and overcharged by my landlord because builders have taken real estate out of my realm and my father hasn’t built a house for me (damn you, daddy! I forgive you the BMW but you really should buy me a house in Delhi). We are all being screwed over by somebody and we all have our compulsions.
You know, how people often say, oh don’t leave your wallet out, you’ll tempt the maid because she is so poor. Hell, if you leave your wallet out, you will tempt anyone. Are you saying you’ve never heard of a politician or a big corporation pulling off a financial scam? Would you forgive them? Why different morality for the autowalas then?
And if you’re going to say that we all earn on incentive based programs then I’ll agree that yes, we do. And so would they. The more passengers or trips they do in a day, the more they earn. Instead you see them sitting at corners refusing to go to X or Y part of the city (That, by the way, is illegal – they are not meant to refuse to take you unless its a meal time or the end of their work day – and they’re meant to put the meter down if they are done for the day). They can’t say no to you and yes to the next person. If they want to be treated like professionals they have to take whatever they get. Do they go out of the way to do you any service? Will they help you carry your packages? Will they turn the auto around and go in the opposite direction from the one they were going in? So often I’ve had autowalas drop me off on the other side of a busy road, with 5 big bags of groceries, refusing to drop me at my gate because they don’t want to turn around. Is that professional? I’ve often left an auto driver with a tip if he goes beyond the call of duty. How are they any different from waiters who only get tipped if they serve well?
So they get stuck in jams, they drive in all conditions but hey, thats the damn job. We also go to office no matter what the weather conditions, no matter who is dying or ill and we also work long hours. There are people who work entire night shifts for years on end, and never mind what that does to their body. Years ago I was working with a TV channel where I was putting in a 20 hour day on a regular basis. There are still people who do that. If you don’t like a particular job – change it. Let them take lessons and look for jobs as car drivers. Anything. There are sweepers out on the roads doing their job no matter what the weather.
I don’t mean to belittle their job or dismiss their problems. Quite the contrary. I mean that every job has its pros and cons and if you’re educated/trained only to do a particular job, you have no other option. People with desk jobs have back problems and joint problems. Airhostesses, pilots, media people and call centre people end up sleeping and waking at odd hours. That doesn’t make it right to extort.
Because that is what it comes down to. Why say oh, its raining, so I will charge double. Errr… why? You’re not a cycle rickshaw puller who is physically dragging me through slush and puddles. You’re dry inside the auto while I am standing outside soaked to the bone. If anything, I’d pay a cycle rickshaw guy a lot more and the night watchman too.
I think the problem is the extremist thinking. This is not persecution. We’re asking for fair rates to be paid. We’re asking for our public transport to be accessible, available and yes, affordable. We’re asking not to be held ransom by the auto driver’s moods. We’re asking that they don’t smoke beedis while driving, tamper with meters, take the long route and lead newcomers a wild goose chase, don’t talk on their cell phones, that they go according to the meter, that they don’t pick and choose destinations, don’t try to force me to share the auto, don’t get another strange man to sit with them while driving and generally, behave in as professional manner as they demand to be treated.
I think its unfair that a certain segment of society is bearing the burden of every other section. Not only do I pay taxes that go into a politicians pocket, I also pay my electricity bill while the auto guy pulls a ‘katiya’ or an illegal connection to his house from mine, so that I foot his bill too. People in business are busy evading taxes while like fools we hand our 30% in religiously. So then why don’t we also use that as an excuse to misbehave.
I have often had auto guys refuse to give me change. They are unwilling to drive up to a local paan shop and get change. They take that last Rs 5 or Rs 10 as their right. The issue here is not whether I would spend that Rs 5 or Rs 10 unthinkingly. It is the principle of the matter. We have either decided on an amount or come according to the meter. Then why must they assume that that Rs 5 is theirs to do as they please? Isn’t it my choice? What if I want to give it to a beggar? Or drop it in a CRY donation box? It is my money and my choice. As long as I am not cheating on the fare, I’m not in the wrong.
There are plenty of people who earn less than the auto guy and give you less attitude too. I feel pretty sorry for sweepers and night watchmen who are out in all types of weather. And maybe the meterjam will not really help. But it’s a start. It says we’re equally unhappy with the way things are. Maybe half the auto-using junta and all the autowalas will not get to even know about it. But if we can start something constructive, some sort of government intervention, then why not? This is not just for us. Heck, it might work out to be the start of something better for us too. Yeah, yeah, I know live in a fool’s paradise!
And oh, this is not all bad. Maybe when people realise they can manage without autos, they will stick with those methods, walk that extra two minutes, carpool, do whatever, reduce the carbon footprint. And hey, the auto drivers can then sit back, put their feet up and smoke beedis without being overworked.