Tag Archives: delhi travel

are autos actually on the meter now?

The first round of edits for my book have finally been completed. As I’ve been reviewing them, I read a comment from my editor Ajitha that I couldn’t believe. In my chapter about getting around Delhi, I said that, “Any driver who agrees to go by the meter is probably planning a route from GK-I to GK-II via the Taj Mahal.”

Here’s what Ajitha said: “No longer true, I think. Meter rates have gone up dramatically and autos actually go by meter!”

Could that be true??? I haven’t been in Delhi for a while, but I can’t imagine such a seismic shift. The only time autos would go by the meter for us was if the driver thought we wouldn’t know the proper route, or if there was a cop watching us negotiate.

Last week, I asked Twitter for other opinions.

And here’s what Twitter had to say.

One of my theories about Delhi is that it exists in a kind of quantum state, because everything about Delhi is true at once. The answers above reinforce that theory.

Still, I’d like more input. Has anyone else seen a change in the ways autorickshaws charge you in the last couple of years?

Update: more responses have poured in from Twitter!



Bye-bye, Blueline! Next: a golden age for Delhi buses?

Towards the end of my parents’ two-week visit with us in Delhi, my mom decided that she wanted to go to Aurobindo Market. Not a challenging task, on the face of it: a short walk comprised of two right turns and two left turns. My mother was certainly both physically and mentally capable of accomplishing it by herself. But I refused to let her go alone.

Because to get to Aurobindo Market, she would have had to cross Aurobindo Marg. And on Aurobindo Marg, there were Blueline buses.

Photo by The Delhi Walla, Mayank Austen Soofi.

The Blueline is tragically and justifiably notorious. The 1,600 buses running on 142 routes killed over 115 people in 2008 and over 1,000 people during the first ten years of this century.

Photo by The Delhi Walla, Mayank Austen Soofi.

I first became obsessed with the Blueline when I researched why they were killing so many people: not because the drivers are bloodthirsty madmen, but because the economics behind the system created deadly incentives for the drivers. (Each driver rents his bus for the day, which means he generates profits only after he’s picked up enough passengers to cover his costs. So he has to drive as aggressive as possible not just to make money, but to stay ahead of the competing Blueline drivers on the same route, who are each trying their damnedest to overtake him and scoop up his awaiting passengers.)

Neither owner nor driver have much incentive to invest in the upkeep of their vehicle. Photo by The Delhi Walla, Mayank Austen Soofi.

And while my mother and I had a lovely time shopping together at Midland Books in Aurobindo Market, the Delhi government has been working frantically to eliminate the careening deathtraps that made me accompany her to begin with. Not because they are against sons politely helping mothers cross the street, but because the city will be a far safer place without them.

Laws alone weren’t enough, of course. Every Blueline driver knew and feared the penalties of rash driving: not just legal deterrence, but angry mobs that routinely attack drivers who don’t frantically abscond the scene of an accident. Laws and vengeance haven’t impacted safety, they’ve just encouraged Blueline owners to legally insulate themselves from the actions of the drivers to whom they rent their buses.

Photo by The Delhi Walla, Mayank Austen Soofi.

The solution, Delhi’s government realized, was to eliminate the owner/renter framework of busing and replace it with an employer/employee relationship.

This meant decoupling profits from passengers.

Photo by The Delhi Walla, Mayank Austen Soofi.

The city has been working on this for years. The Bluelines were first supposed to be phased out in July of 2009. But every time the city made a move, the “Federation of Blueline Buses Operators” got the courts to make a counter-move. Now, though, it finally seems like the Blueline is destined for the rustheap of history. After some frantic legal back-and-forth in recent weeks — the city eliminated the Blueline, the courts reinstated it, the city eliminated it, the courts reinstated it — the latest decree looks like it’s going to stick.

Delhi High Court on Monday declined to restrain a government notification to phase out the capital’s Blueline buses notorious for their reckless drivers.

So what about all the commuters who rely on the Blueline to get around? Good news: all those fancy new buses the city bought for the Commonwealth Games are about to hit the streets:

According to senior DTC officials, about 1,400 buses, which were deployed on the Commonwealth Games duty to ferry athletes, delegates, officials, media and security personnel to the Games Village and the venues, will be back on road for ordinary people from October 24.

And that’s just from the public sector. The private sector is getting involved, too, including SpiceJet and Kingfisher.

According to the plan, the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) is to run 60 percent of the buses while in the rest 40 percent, the entry of corporate houses is permitted.

But wait — won’t those new bus companies operate under the same old profit-per-passenger incentives? The crumbling Bluelines might be replaced by shining new Tata Motors coaches, but won’t the drivers still be racing down the roads? Will the only improvement be that the people who get nailed don’t have to worry about rust stains on their clothes?

No. There’s more to it. This isn’t just a change of ownership. The city is actually changing the economics of running a bus company.

The Delhi government will provide the companies Rs.27-42 as earning per kilometre even when the service runs into losses, but it will take the ticketing amount.

These are very different incentives. From the narrow standpoint of the bus/passenger relationship, they’re probably not perfect incentives. (One could imagine bus owners encouraging their drivers to take meandering trips to run up the mileage reimbursement while picking up no passengers at all.)

But from the broader perspective of making the city safer and the commute more reliable, this framework is a huge improvement. Especially when one learns that the drivers themselves will be city employees, and the buses will be monitored by GPS.

Photo by The Delhi Walla, Mayank Austen Soofi.

All of which means that when we go back to Delhi in February for the book release events (we’re in talks for at least nine parties in six Indian cities!), it might be safe to cross the street. In fact, given that most of these new coaches are-conditioned, we might even travel to our events by bus.