autorickshaws in Delhi: some practical advice

The best advice we can give to anyone attempting to travel Delhi by autorickshaw is this: ignore the Lonely Planet. While the book usually offers good information, in this instance it fails utterly in its exhortation to only travel in autos that agree to use the meter. The official meter rate, fixed by the State Transport Authority at 4.5 rupees for every kilometer after the first, is less than half of what you can reasonably expect to pay.

Any auto driver who agrees to go by the meter is probably planning to take you from GK I to GK II via the Taj Mahal.

Because the meter is out of the question, every autorickshaw journey begins with fare negotiations. That’s easy to overcome if you know where you are, where you’re going, and the market equilibrium rate for getting there; but for our first few rides in Delhi, the fairness of our fare was entirely up to the honor of our driver, and how adept we were at fooling him into thinking we knew what we were doing.

We know now that no auto ride should ever cost more than 100 rupees, provided you’re sticking to South or Central Delhi. (Nobody knows how much it costs to go to North Delhi because, as far as I know, nobody has ever gone there.) I was not armed with that knowledge on my second day in Delhi, before Jenny had arrived, when I put my fledgling bargaining skills to the test and negotiated a ride from Connaught Place to GK II for 180 rupees, basking in pride during the entire ride in having talked the guy down from the 200 he quoted.

Any auto driver who finds a tourist that ignorant of the market values is going to try to push him for all he’s worth. When we reached my destination, I handed the driver two bills and asked for change. The driver turned around in his seat and started begging me to let him keep the whole 200. And I mean begging—pleading, moaning, eyes rolling and tearing, hands clasped in front of him as he invoked his gods and his children and his poverty and my wealth, all for that extra 20 rupees.

But I set my jaw and stood firm and got my change; and I felt proud that I hadn’t let the guy swindle me out of my hard-earned money. My first major test of my will in India, and I totally won.


34 responses to “autorickshaws in Delhi: some practical advice

  1. Not to rain on your parade but for christ sake why do you think the guy was begging??? In my opinion I think it’s outrageous that the fix is on 4.5 R a km.

    All that for an extra 20 roepie? Seriously isn’t that the most insensitive and pompous thing to say? For some folks that’s a daily wage and you bet he needs that’s extra 20.

    Congratulations with your victory.

    • I agree that 4.5R/km is an outrageously low rate, but that does not excuse swindling tourists. I don’t think anyone is expecting the metered rate, but merely the same amount charged of the locals. Why should that be considered unreasonable, much less pompous?

      • First off, all locals don’t pay the same rate. You pay for the fare and tip according to your standard of living. Same goes for restaurants, hotels etc.

        For Delhi I would call the supposedly extra 100 R hardly a swindle. It’s like 1 dollar 50?

        Bargaining is fun but to stress a mans begging and see that as a ‘major test of your will??


  2. this website is crap get a new one put on

  3. It was NOT honourable of the autorickshaw driver to have charged you even Rs.180. The reasonable fare would be more like Rs.80. But let me give you a few facts about autorickshaws of Delhi.

    1. Auto fare at Rs.4.50/K.M. is the lowest in the country (read, World).

    2. Cost of auto at Rs.450,000 is thrice as much as anywhere in India because of a ban on their increase and the involvement of Finance-Mafia.

    3. Eight out of ten autorickshaw drivers depend on rented autos.

    4. No training is ever provided to auto drivers. Would you go to a doctor who has learnt on the job?

    5. Delhi has just about 20 autorickshaw stands. The rest are “unauthorized” where drivers have to pay rent/bribe to police.

    6. Show me an auto driver who did not have to pay bribe to get his licence and I will show an honest auto driver.

    You want me to continue? I have a list of 35-40 points… and all these have been raised before the autorities at different points in time. No luch! We are now planning to approach the High Court of Supreme Court.

  4. @purnima: Since when people started paying according to their “standard of living”? You cannot justify that drivers begging by that stupid statement. What the driver did is called “theft”, not earning his livelihood. If you have loads of cash to waste, please do so but don’t ask anybody else to waste their hard earned money. Learn to value money.


    • Since always. The ‘hard earned money’ is so cliche. If you have been in any reataurant in India or worked in restaurant you know most of the waiters or bellboys depend on their tips and you know people give different tips.

  5. In April 2007, we pasted a full-size poster on the back of 1,000s of autorickshaws of Delhi with the following message:

    “Bache ko bhookha rakhenge toh vo chori karke khayega. Upar se chaar gandi aadatein aur seekhega. Yahi auto chalakon ki kahani hai. Sochiye.”

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  7. I would like to disagree with you that you can’t get autos to go by meter. In the last 2 years or so, I have refused to travel in autos that don’t go by the meter, and yes… you need to walk away from 4-5 autos but sooner or later you find an auto that will go.
    Just refuse to get into a negotiation. Either meter or another auto. Try it. It does work.

  8. “If you have been in any reataurant in India or worked in restaurant you know most of the waiters or bellboys depend on their tips and you know people give different tips.”

    This is plain wrong, US funda applied to India. There never was a tipping culture in India, Gosh have you ever even been to a restaurant outside the 5-stars? Tips are expected from foreigners (whites), nowadays a few NRI types also follow the 10% rule. But no one in their right mind expects a tip from an Indian in India.

    • My boyfriend is 100% Indian and always gives tips as do his friends and colleagues. The Indian people I worked with would pay double the amount most foreigners pay to drivers not out of charity but out of decency.

  9. how’d you get to correlating tips at restaurants to Autorickshaw fares? Not to rain on your parade either, but having stayed in delhi for a good 28 years now, I have had my fair share of auto rides. And NO, there is no ‘Standard fare + tipping’ funda anywhere. I don’t know where you’re getting all this from. I dont know what Autos your ‘100% Indian boyfriend’ has been flagging down, but its always been a Standard fare from one point to the other. Delhi autowallahs dont usuall go by the meter, and yea you need to have an idea about what the ‘asking rates’ are from one place to the other and that is the end of it. There is no ‘tip according to your standard of living’.

    And I agree with pawan, these guys have a tough time bringing in the money, because of the exorbitant rents they have to pay daily + the bribes and everything he mentioned. I understand their reasons. The government doesnt do enough for them, and the mafia that finances most autos on the road dont share enough profits either. Its a fucked up system for these guys. However, 180bucks from CP to GK? Might as well take up another profession man! No one puts a gun to your head and forces you into being an Auto driver. Pick your battles. A little honesty at work, goes a long way for everyone.

    Fleecing tourists is unacceptable.

    p.s: 20 bucks isn’t daily wage for Autorickshaw drivers. Agreed, for some people it is. But Autorickshaw drivers ain’t them. Most of them have stereos installed in their autos, that are worth more than the one in my car. Being sensitive to poverty is not = Stupid. And I dont know which part of the world this is coming from, but 100bucks IS a swindle in delhi! especially for people who travel in Autos! ‘A dollar and 50’ or not!

  10. @correction:

    “And I agree with Rakesh..” not pawan.

    @pawan: I do agree with your point as well buddy. But yea, even most of us desis end up paying tips at most restaurants. For different reasons, though. 🙂

    • Yes yes no one puts a gun against his head and forces thim to be poor. Easy talking for you right? Stereos? Oh no how dare they! 20 bucks does makes a difference if you earn 400/500 a day. It’s just a freakin 1,50.

      As per Rakesh good luck taking it to high court, talking about swindles…

      • I am taking it to the High/Supreme Court with the twin objectives as follows:

        1. To build a reliable, honest and professional autorickshaw service.
        2. To ensure that the auto drivers can live a life of dignity and financial security.

        Any comments?

        In every sphere one can think of, scores or hundres of NGOs are active. However, auto drivers are so unlucky as to have none other than NyayaBhoomi. Isn’t it strange that an area that affects the livelihood of 400,000 and travel experience of millions should remain the concern of no one?

  11. @purnima: Since waiters and bellboys depend on your tip why not keep them at your home as pets and give them a healthy daily tip and DON’T you dare ask them to do work. they live by tips, you know. NOT by earning an honest pay.

    And “hard earned money” is a cliche??! You don’t seem to have “earned” your money yet lady. Decency is when you let people EARN their money and not by “tipping” them.

  12. *sigh* google’s bots would have done a better job at understanding what I wrote here.

    Anyways.. my point (since we managed to dance around it and somehow bring it back to ‘insensitivity to the poor’) was about earning your money fair and square. Even after the 180-fleecing-rupees he charged them, he still tried to wriggle out of returning the 20 bucks he owed him back from the 200. And that to me (unlike few) is not acceptable. I think its commendable dave stood his ground and got this change back. well.. but thats just me.

    If next up is advocacy on the guy’s case, banking on ‘Oh he’s a poor guy.. that 20 bucks is a lot of money to him, so what if he didn’t feel like returning the change he owed back after the over-inflated-charge he conned a tourist into paying, then I think I’ll give all this a pass.

    And a bit of introspection anyone? before one goes ahead with classics like ‘Easy talking for you right?’, while sitting on a comfy chair in front of a laptop replying to an online blog post, expressing concern and sympathy for the poor. coz yea! Armchair causes (and best of all, those attempted online) are just what the poor need right now. Dude, that must take a lot of effort and drive. All that typing on the keyboard, mouse clicks. phew. Im just glad people in this world are doing their bit.

    @Dave/Jenny: Write on! 🙂 It’s all good.

  13. Since Jenny tweeted this twice, I thought why not share my point of view as well.

    I for one, agree with Dave.

    The Autowallas are very clever at asking you for more money than what is actually the right amount. And if you look like you are from out of India, then you can make that amount twice.

    So, I wouldn’t criticize Dave too much. After all, he already paid him 180 rupees! ( which, my guess is, already too much )

  14. Are you that stupid? Read the rest of their posts and think for once.

  15. “My boyfriend is 100% Indian and always gives tips as do his friends and colleagues. The Indian people I worked with would pay double the amount most foreigners pay to drivers not out of charity but out of decency.”

    Whatever is this supposed to mean. The assertion that the waiters in India depend on the “tips” for their salaries is plain wrong. And pray why should one pay 20 Rs. more than what was agreed after “negotiation”?

    Your “Indian” friends who pay double the amount are encouraging overcharging in Autos. Maybe your Indian friends didn’t tell you this , but a lot people in India commute daily by Autos and if someone charges you double the amount daily I for one won’t see the charitable part of it.

    If you are so interested in charity then instead of writing inane comments why don’t you do some real charity like these folks?

  16. Hey DJ and wow, what a racket!

    I used to take an auto to work for the few days that my car was in the workshop. I live in Mayur Vihar and my office used to be in Vasant Kunj, which means I was travelling, literally, from one corner of the city to the other.

    My experience says its actually not _so_ difficult to find ricks who would go by the meter. For every 5 ricks that would try and take you for a ride, you’ll find one that will make your day. Can vouch for this.

    I averaged 120 bucks over a period of 3 weeks and have rarely ever tipped the drivers for doing their job. Except on a couple of instances when it was getting late in the night and I tipped a tenner over and above the fare in the meter.

    (Who is this Purnima, anyways?)

      • I am a girl too but going around trolling someone else’s blog is not a signature style of the gender, I assure you 🙂

        So yours is an incomplete explanation (not to mention a random slur)

        Miss P has just started her blog and this is her way of generating traffic. Forgive them O Lord… etc.

  17. I should have known when I saw 22 comments that it was mostly going to be someone riled by a ‘white’ person criticising what Indians criticise all the time. I mean, seriously…

    I usually log into WP and leave a trail but Jenny, this time, for fear of attracting this troll to my blog – since she reads many of the blogs I have been reading for the last 3-4 years – I shall remain anonymous.

  18. @Purnima

    I do not agree with you. Auto drivers will overcharge as long as they can and you allow them to. Bargaining for 10rs or 20rs is the first step and yes even I would gloat over it. Small beginnings u see. I remember taking an auto because I was getting late for school and the guy overcharged me by 100% leaving me with no cash at all for the rest of the day and all this even after I thought I had bargained.

    They always over charge because they know ppl bargain and the rate after that is anyway higher than the base charge.

  19. I spent a couple of weeks in Delhi last year and as told by the wonderful hosts at Thikana Delhi ( I always insisted on using the meter. Except for tourists zones I was given the meter charge 4 out of 5 times. I spent most of my time around GK II, Khan Market and central Delhi.

    I hate touts and over-charging taxi drivers (KL is the worst I have come across). Also I dislike ignorant tourists who compare the fare with the amount in their home country. But I do however strongly encourage tipping for honest and decent drivers who charge by the meter.

  20. As an Indian and resident of Delhi, I can only say sorry.

  21. Me thinks that the whole comments turned into a post in itself… D&J are surely findin’ the discussion interstin’ and wisely not addin’ to it.

  22. So much has already been said, yet I want to add my two-penny worth. Went to New Jersey recently. Took a cab from Point A to Point B, which according to the people around (including the guy who had answered the phone at the cab company) should have been 60$, On reaching there, he asked for 120$! His explanation – the route which one normally takes had a jam so he took an alternate longer route. What would you say to this? An autorickshawalla by any other name…….. PS – Wonder if Dave and Jenny actually found something nice in all the time they were here. Would be a pity if they didn’t!

  23. Thought I’d add in my experiences: I’ve had pretty good luck getting auto drivers to use the meter during the morning commute; most of them will agree without much fuss (possibly because I leave around 8:15AM, so the roads are still pretty clear). The afternoon rush hour is a different story, and for that I usually have to pay the market rate because the meter only accounts for distance traveled, not standing time (if it did, this problem might be solved). I paid Rs. 200 for my hour-long, water-soaked trip through gridlocked traffic after the giant downpour on 27 July.

    Second, I have had numerous coworkers, both Indian and expat alike, tell me they have had pretty good luck badgering recalcitrant drivers into using the meter by calling the police. I’ve never tried this myself, but apparently the cops do usually show up, and most drivers will agree to use the meter once you pull out your mobile. One caveat: you have to be sitting in the auto for this to be effective, otherwise the driver will just leave.

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