Every one in Chennai knows that people have given up on the Government to do anything about the issue with Auto-rickshaws (known as AUTO in India) and their refusal to ply with the meters to calculate the fares.
Every single person involved in this system (the passenger, the auto driver, the owner of the auto, the Government, the traffic police, the traffic regulating bodies as well as the auto associations) know that the menace created by some greedy auto drivers has become very common.
The most interesting aspect of this situation is that every one loves the idea of autos, especially in cities like Chennai, as they provide a very quick mode of transportation, with the cost ranging between taking a public transportation system such as a bus, and taking a taxi cab to go to your destination.
While the idea is great, the implementation lacks regulation due to which there are now a million autos in the city, while 99% or more of those autos do not use the meter.
There have been some attempts by some individuals to come up with online initiatives such as meterpodu.in and missingmeter.com, to address this issue, but they barely touch upon the actual problem.
The key problem at hand is the fact that auto drivers do not use the meters, charge whatever they feel like and refuse to ply to some destinations.
I have seen New York city solve this problem in an amazing way with their taxi cabs, where those drivers did exactly what auto drivers are doing today in Chennai. The government stepped in and rectified the problem once for all. Today, if you take a cab in New York, you do not even tell the driver where you want to go until you are seated inside the taxi. Once seated in the taxi, you tell the driver, he switches on the meter and once the destination is reached, the meter automatically prints a receipt for you. You can swipe your card from the seat and it automatically charges the amount. If at any point, the driver refuses to ply to the destination of your choice, or asks for anything above the meter, there is a toll free number and the cab’s number printed in big bold letters right in front you in the back seat.
Full transparency – this is possible only with the complete support of the Government, who have not been able to solve this problem in Chennai for over ten years now.
For the past three years, I am noticing even tv and interactive online access available in the cabs in New York. This is what is called as solving the problem and going beyond the basics to exceed customer expectations.
Here is an interesting short video clip made by Times Of India, as a part of their Missing Meter initiative.
Note: The above video is in tamil.
I believe there is a way to solve the problem, with or without the Government support. It is in thinking differently from the usual basic steps such as trying to work with the auto unions, governments, etc. It requires an initiative that cannot be overlooked by the auto drivers and they will have to adopt or lose business. While the idea I have is not fully mature, I am parking it in my idea godown for now, but will surely publish again in 2013 after documenting it (and if possible implementing it in 2013).