Think Chennai, Autoriskhaw, and the words that would immediately come to your mind are of the type - exorbitant, fleece, rip-off, etc. On many occasions I have tried to understand the logic behind the fares but haven't got anywhere. I am trying to piece together my experiences with autowalahs in different cities.
This morning too, for my travel from Chennai Central railway station to my residence in K K Nagar which is about 15km away, all the way from the platform to the pre-paid auto counter, autowalahs were aggressively offering me a "very reasonable" fare of Rs 220. Some others pretend to claim that they are 'prepaid auto' in the vicinity of the prepaid counter with 'prepaid rates' of Rs 170-200. The actual prepaid rate is Rs 129. The prepaid driver does not mumble or crib about the fare and behaves well with you, not even once hating you for the potential "loss of extra revenue up to Rs 90".
If we analyze from a per-km perspective, this prepaid rate of Rs 130 for the 15 km works out to less than Rs 9/km which is cheaper than the auto fares in most towns. My best experience with autorikshaws have been in Trivandrum, Trichur, Kozhikode and Kannur (in Kerala) and Kolhapur, Mumbai. In most other places (all district headquarters in Kerala, 4-5 cities in TN, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Guwahati, Kolkata, Delhi, etc) the experience ranges from unpleasant to worse, the worst being in Delhi. Jaipur and Gandhinagar/Ahmedabad have been average.
In Bangalore, most of them do run on meters (which are a showpiece in Chennai autos). But then you run the risk of being taken for a city tour if you are not familiar with the locality, or being told absurd reasons like 'sunday, so more fare' or '
In Trivandrum/Trichur/Kozhikode/Kannur, you get very reasonable and affordable fares, which are at most meter plus 2-3 rupees within the city, well within 6-8 rupees per km. But the moment you step out of the corporation boundary, you are doomed. For example, in Trivandum, from the Central Railway Station to Peroorkada junction (city limit) would be less than 50 rupees for 7km approx, but add another 900 meters to NCC Nagar, they would ask for at least 100 rupees, just because this is technically outside of the corporation limits - taking the per km rate to more than 12.
In cities like Eranakulam, it is nightmarish - the rikshaws themselves have set a rate of Rs 12 per km, and worse, behave arrogantly (which sometimes makes me forgive the average fleecer chennai autowalah, for, though he is fleecing, he would treat you like a king).
One thought I have is that wherever the public transport system is good, the autorikshaws have less demand and more supply, hence try to increase the price. Chennai and Ernakulam have excellent public transport infrastructure and hence have high autorikshaw fares. Trivandrum has a pathetic and irregular public transport and autorikshaws are mostly greater in demand than supply, hence affordable fares.
Another argument I hear as the reason for Chennai fares is that they have to pay a daily rent of 150-200 rupees to the vehicle owner, as well as fend for the fuel expenses themselves, so they have no other option than to charge high. I am not very sure about this part - that most autorikshaws are in fact, owned by policemen in benaami, due to which the policemen also don't take any action to enforce govt approved rates (which are at an unbelievable Rs 6/km, fixed in 2007).
What are your thoughts?