Why do they do it?

“Richmond Circle”, I said as I hopped on to the yellow-black three wheeler. The driver cut across a crowded road to do a flashy U-turn inviting glares and screeches from other motorists. But I knew my journey had begun and I was in safe hands. This is one set of service providers that respects its customers’ time, isn’t it.

While admiring his deft maneuvering skills, pavement hopping and well timed red-signal jumps, I wished for more entertainment inside the auto. Inhaling soot was the only option – I don’t like smoking – so I started watching the meter. Time ticked slowly, so did the meter, but after a few minutes, I witnessed it. 1.50, 1.60, 1.70 … 1.90, all in about two seconds.

I wouldn’t describe what happened next (they have a way of ‘controlling’ the meter), but I was thinking why do they do it?
– fiddle with the meter
– tamper with the engine to raise mileage by 1-1.5 kmpl, and a lot of noise in the bargain
– drive like mad dogs

The driving part can be explained. Rest of us are no saints on the road either. They drive to live, so as long as they are not getting caught and reprimanded for rash driving, why would they not do it?

Tampering with engine too can be explained on similar lines. The law around noise and air pollution is not enforced, so you are as ‘free’ to play with your engine as them. Too bad you don’t do it ;)

But fiddling with the meter? That is downright and direct cheating of consumers. Is it because they think they need to be making more money per kilometer? And is that why they are demanding a hike in fares now? Taking this further, I would want to know the process for ‘fixing‘ the minimum fares. Who decides how much profit per kilometer is okay, and how do they do it? This is a bit similar to the maximum retail price (MRP) concept for consumer products in our country. The idea I think is to prevent cheating of consumers that results from lack of competetion or awareness.

The right way of dealing with this perhaps is in letting them ‘compete’ with each other. This way of fixing and forcing their profits makes them ‘cooperate’ instead, which I argue is more unhealthy than helpful. We could still have an MRP like system, which would suggest the maximum per km. Various auto operators would then compete and keep the prices around this maximum.

Think about one more thing. What would happen if the auto fares triple overnight? Or, if autos were banned on the grounds of being unsafe and polluting? Strikes etc part, we will all put more pressure on our local government to provide better and reliable public transport. These autos act as ‘buffers’ in that sense, I would rather have us direct all our anger and energy at BMTC/BMLTA’s inefficiency instead.

PS: photo credit fingernails4u @ flickr

[Cross posted from Praja, comments off]

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