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Jacquie Day - Blog Post 2: Rickshaw Riding 101

Jacquie Day - Blog Post 2: Rickshaw Riding 101

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Riding in rickshaws is very much part of my everyday life and continues to be a space of navigation. I was inspired by my fellow CAPI intern; Sonia who is living in Delhi and recently visiting her there gave me greater perspective and allowed me to become more curious about my own rickshaw (aka, Autorickshaw, Auto, or Tuktuk) experiences.

In Trivandrum, it is somewhat expected what one will be met with climbing onto the bench in the back of a rickshaw. The drivers use meters here, which determines how much the fare will cost. This is a very reliable way to travel as the base fare starts at 15 rupees (about 30 Canadian cents), and goes up from there. The most I have paid for a rickshaw within the confines of the city is about 200 rupees (4 dollars). This however, is unusual as one can get generally anywhere in the city centre for under 100 rupees. I know it must seem ‘cheap’, but when you rely on this as your general mode of transportation everywhere you go, several times a day- it adds up. It also adds up, when drivers of these 3-wheeled contraptions try and get more rupees out of you then one would hope. Drivers can also conveniently seem to forget to put on the meter- and simply tell you the rate they want.

There are some unwritten rickshaw rules one must know, and it hurts to discover them on your own, though once you do- you will forever change the way you ride in rickshaws. The first rule is to always always always carry lots of small bills and change with you. If you offer the driver more than the cost of the fare, you are (I am) less likely to get any change back. When you do, it feels lucky. At first (and still at times), I pay more than the charged fare. I thought it was only fair. In Canada, if I were to ride in a taxi (which I almost never do as the cost is extraordinary) - I would tip. In India, I tip a bit more for meals and well received rickshaw service, though it is not usual for people here to pay or offer more than things cost. Lately my attitude has been to pay for how much things cost. Which at first I ‘felt bad’ about, as everything seems so cheap comparatively, but the longer I live here, the more I want to have an equal exchange with those I receive services from. Also- drivers seem to expect I am willing to pay more. I imagine this to be because of the color of my skin and my representation of wealth, and frankly- ignorance to this culture. I often tell drivers that “I live here. I am not a tourist”, and then direct them where I would like to go- which shows them I actually do live here and therefore they are less likely to ask for more money from me.

The second rule is to ask for the meter to be put on, if it is not automatically turned on when you hop in the diesel-fueled black and yellow vehicle. I am told it is illegal for drivers to refuse the meter when asked to put on. Know your rights, if you will. You can also write down the number of the rickshaw (everyone has one), and offer to report them if they do not comply with turning on the meter. Threatening (and sometimes actually doing) to get out of the vehicle also works.

The third- is that after 9pm, and sometimes simply after dark (around 7pm), it is usual for the price of the meter to be doubled. There is less traffic around this time, and less people needing rickshaw rides, though these are just guesses for the reasons of the ‘night rate’. Also, if it is raining (as per the monsoon) - you might also be expected to pay more.

 This leads to my personal encounter with a rickshaw driver coming out of the airport. I asked him to put on the meter and told him I would pay whatever the meter said. He claimed I needed to pay double the meter (as in the nightly rate even though the sun had not yet set), as I would also need to pay for his return trip to the airport. When it came time to pay- I paid the meter cost, plus a generous tip and got out. I was hoping that would be enough. Not for him, it wasn’t. He got out of the rickshaw and nearly followed me into my apartment- demanding more fare. I was feeling particularly feisty this day and chose to argue rather than pay. Usually, I would have paid to avoid such confrontation but then be left with the feeling of being taken advantage of. I wanted to stand up for myself and tell him it wasn’t okay. I don’t know if it’s usual for people to be expected to pay double the cost to or from the airport. I guessed it wasn’t- but for all I know, it was another unwritten rule. Either way, he very begrudgingly drove off. I still wonder if I did the right thing as I have been very convinced before (to pay more) and lacked the bargaining attitude. But if Delhi taught me anything (however short I spent there), it’s that drivers will stop at nothing to try and take advantage of you. They will create any reason and excuse to get more money out of you. I supposed my driver was attempting to do the same. To be fair, not all and every driver is like this. Of course not. Many are simply interested in being paid for their service.

One more thing is to not take it personally when drivers refuse to drive you certain places. Very often if I approach the driver with an area across town from my current location, he will refuse me. This is because (I imagine), there are certain areas and neighborhoods drivers prefer to be in. There are also so many rickshaws driving around, you can be assured you will land one sooner or later. Unless of course you are on a non-major (or any) road after 8pm. Then, you may have to wait more than the usual 0-5 minutes it may take to catch a ride.

The best advice I can give in rickshaw riding is to stand up for yourself. Ask/use the meter, do not pay more than it costs (with some exceptions), carry change, and know which direction you need to go. In India, it’s a matter of saying yes- while also not being afraid to say no. It is important for me to let the driver and anyone else who asks me for more than what it costs- that they know that I know they are attempting to rip me off. Especially in tourist-rich places. Do bargain, but also pay what it costs (though this is simply hard to know sometimes).  How and what to pay for services and goods is a constant negotiation around here. Not only do I bump up against personal battles of ‘how much is enough, and how much is too much’, I feel guilty when I pay so little (according to my Canadian-raised awareness of how much things cost), and also feel terrible when I know I have been taken advantage of. I remind myself that everything is relative, and try and not constantly compare India and Canada in order to live here in this experience and see it for what it is. Not for how it is different.

In Trivandrum, the city in instituting a women’s collective which will offer females the chance to become rickshaw drivers. It is fair to say that currently, all rickshaw drivers are men. Having female drivers, mostly female passengers will be favored by these rickshaws, with the intention of increasing safety to female’s experience in getting to and from their destinations safely. The female-run rickshaws, will be painted pink and black, as opposed to the tradition yellow and black, to make them distinctive from your average rickshaw.