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Share-Auto Gyaan…. !

February 7, 2016


Last morning as usual I crossed my street to hail an auto as my regular auto-wala was held up somewhere. I have downloaded the Ola app, but still somehow prefer those not under the ambit of Ola or Uber. (Others also have to live). (And there are auto-walas without smart phones mind you!)

There are no share-autos plying our route but because of certain stretches of PH Road etc made into one-way during peak hours, we have quite a few using our street, morning 8-11 am. No such luck in the evenings.

So when I was waiting for auto to go to Mylapore, a Tata Magic bound for T-Nagar stopped in front of me. The driver beckoned to me to get in and in a jiffy, I found myself climbing in to my own surprise. There were 3 more men and women seated, all office-goers obviously. It was 10.30 am and I wondered which government office the employees graced with their punctual attendance?!

‘Where in T Nagar this stops?’ I asked the driver and he gave me a curious glance. ‘Near the petrol bunk’  came the reply and others returned me their strange stare as well. ‘How much’ I asked next and the driver turned to tell me it was 20 bucks. My! To T. Nagar in 20 bucks only. Normally it costs me anywhere between 80-120 bucks depending on how greedy the autowala is. The metered fair ones also clock minimum 70 rupees. Plus they ask for extras which i would round off to 80.

The share-auto ride was rickety but thoroughly enjoyable. It was my first ever shared-auto experience. My regular autowala takes care not to down his auto into potholes or when it comes to speed-breakers.  Not much worse than car-drive. No chance with the share-auto wala. Looks like the city corporation has relaid most of the roads after monsoons. Still the travel was rough and my spine took the brunt.

Before turning into Pondy Bazar, the driver said to me to get down at the junction if I did so wish. Before we reached this point, a couple of people had got down and a couple of them had got in. They were typical lower middle-class aged people. I reckoned what a blessing share-auto is for the sick and elderly who cannot afford private autos, who can neither brave tiring bus journeys. Humbled sitting next to such an old couple probably on their way to a clinic, I saw them pay 20 bucks to the driver. I didnot question the share-auto wala why he asked for 20 bucks from me. I guess the couple are regulars.

Disembarking from the share-auto, I thanked the driver for the ride He threw me a disbelieving look. ‘Your first time in share-auto?!’ he asked with a smile. ‘Yes.’ I said but the jump out is as tricky as the climb in as I found out. I had time to talk to the driver because near the junction, a beat policeman had by then come to the window of the auto. ‘This is my first trip for the day anna. I have not yet made anything’ pleaded the driver. ‘On your return then’ said the cop and let the share-auto cross the road into T. Nagar.

I walked a few paces to hail another auto to get to Mylapore. As luck would have it, one more Tata magic stopped in front of me!!! It had a board ‘T.Nagar-Santhome.’ It had only one passenger.

I told the driver I needed to go to Mylapore. ‘I shall drop you at Luz signal. Take a bus, it is only one stop away.’ said he. I hopped in and gave him 15 bucks he charged. Due to ongoing metrorail work, lots of places have been disturbed and entire city is in disarray. I thought share-auto walas knew exactly how to make it swift even though the ride was bumpy. As promised, I was dropped at Luz.

On the way I had asked the driver if he wouldn’t really touch Mylapore tank. ‘I follow 12 C & 12 B route’ he said. ‘What, are you new to the city or are you poking fun at me?’ ‘She must be new to share-auto’ said helpfully my co-passenger, a working woman. As a matter of fact, 12 B is my college route.

It is a long time since I took a bus. The last one was in my bank days after my son’s birth. I got my first vehicle – a 2-wheeler soon and bid good-bye to public transport. It was PTC then now re-named MTC.

I Missed 2 empty MTC buses with number board ’21’ that could have dropped me in my next stop Mylapore. Or in a pleasant weather (which is rare in my state) we can walk the short distance. But I took a private auto this time – and paid the basic meter rate – flat 25 bucks.

In total 20+15+25, my trip to Mylapore cost me only 60 bucks. Otherwise it would cost me minimum 130 bucks. 150 generally. What a savings.

Enjoyed the 2 rough rides even if my back was stretched and arched and twisted throughout! Not good for the elderly honestly on regular basis. Beforehand I have never seen my city this way. The share-auto walas maintained average good speed even in the thick of traffic but were still efficient in maneuvering their way cleverly into whatever gaps opened in front of them better than my regular auto-wala (who was smart in diverting into side-streets to avoid bottle-necks) and making it before being stopped at the red-signals.

The auto-walas as well as the share-autos make our streets ugly but then look at the service they render for the desperate among us. Stranded otherwise for availability of quick and efficient and affordable mode of transport, some of us would have to dig deeper into our pockets for paying for private transport if we cannot muster the vigor to chase the public transport. This particular slot in city transportation had been open probably for years that has been rightly tapped into at appropriate time by ‘wise people.’ Even if that makes our metro a lot more congested, on my 2 back-to-back share-auto rides, I was impressed by the unconventional and irregular routes the vehicles took to their destination.

For instance, there are no bus-routes from Anna Nagar to T Nagar straight via Nelson-Manickam Road, Nungambakkam and Pondy Bazar. Similarly Abhiramapuram and Alwarpet normally missed by MTC buses were covered by the Santhome-bound share-auto. The maps are like tailor-made, need-based.

The cost is not prohibitive. If we are prepared for not-so-smooth rides, share-autos are best option.

In India, I know, you can sell anything. There are takers for everything. Nothing goes waste. No business goes dull. If something should flop, I would blame the zero business sense of the entrepreneur and none else. More over in India, there are special and specific needs and demands that may not be met by eyes or searched on paper.  Government cannot step into every segment practically but private people can fill the gap. It is always the habit with some of us to bemoan the ‘objectives’ of those who volunteer to step into this vacant spot to make life a little easier for us. In the meanwhile, the enterprising helpful folks also must make a living. So is this capitalism?

Someone who routinely rides a share-auto from Ambattur to T.Nagar to work in a textile showroom for a meager income says, bus is too tedious for her. Share-auto is affordable to this working girl who saves a lot of energy and time in the process. Back-breaking both are equally, contends she.

The share-auto stops wherever you may wave for it and you can similarly alight anywhere on its route-map. So its accessibility is a big plus point. The next best thing to happen to you after your car or regular auto is the share-auto. From the 2 rides I took, I was foremost impressed by the roads they plied and areas they catered to. Hitherto unserviced far-flung suburbs benefited the most. Operational upto 11 pm, the residents have a safe and cheap option for means of transport for city. And considering how the regular auto walas are fleecing our hapless lower middle-class, the cost-saving, prudent share-auto is nothing short of miracle for many who have become its loyal patrons. Servicing grandparents dropping kids in schools and patients routinely visiting hospitals to middle-aged working men and women who are looking into retirement in near future to small-time hawkers and sellers, the share-auto has become an indispensable part of our metropolitan life. The connectivity is amazing and timely. Be it ECR or OMR or Ambattur or Velachery or Red Hills or Royapuram, share-autos cover east to west and north to south and criss-cross. By ECR, I am talking about a 40 km stretch upto and after Mahabalipuram. Similarly after Ambattur, we have Avadi.

Will the metro-rail pitch in anywhere? Possible. It is bound to be comfortable and economical. So far it is operational only partly but very soon is set to open up in entirety. A linking of Chennai Metrorail with the pre-existing twin train transport system of the city viz its overhead MRTS and the suburban rail is the need of the hour. At present such a facility is possible only in the Park station where MRTS and the suburban share a single switching platform between them so the commuter can choose with ease his/her next part of train journey. Not sure how Metro rail will fit into the loop. There is some overlapping seen near the airport where the suburban and the Metro rail may inter-cross but where is the room for MRTS here? It is hightime to centralize all the 3 rail services in the city and launch them as a single super power transport. They have such an efficient and working solution in Singapore where the switch is hassle-free for passengers.

Even in the MTC fleet there have been air-conditioned buses in recent times that charge a flat 30 bucks for point-to-point, opted by the retired and the leisurely who want to save but still have a relaxed travel within city. Preferred mode of transport in peak summer over long distances.

There is an element of delight in becoming the ‘aam aadmi.’ The General Janata 🙂 No way you can get a pulse of city life better than in our public transport systems. The noticeable thing about buses and autos is, younger women aren’t much around. Yeah, women of Chennai have always been kind of independent when it comes to commuting. From cycles in ’70s, we moved on to mopeds and gearless scooters in ’80s. From ’90s a good number of us take to the carwheel, still bikes are our favourite mode of transport. Such a sense of freedom as you fly in your Kinetic Honda! Having ridden both 2-wheeler and 4-wheeler once upon a time in life, I have taken a break willingly but still think with nostalgia the spirit of driving.

Waiting for the day Metro rail opens near to my place. 1 km away we have an underground station coming up which can take us to any part of the city in air-conditioned comfort.

One feasible and excellent way to cut pollution is gradual shifting over to mass transport. At the same time, it has to be made viable. Although share-autos presently are very much functional and helpful, it is also with the establishment to phase them out over a period of time and extend MRTS/Metro Rail/Suburban train services to the districts to bring in workforce to the heart of the city. Capacity expansion is the need of the hour. Monorail should not be shelved either. Chennai is hungry for more and more. 

Make the city beautiful, please. It is so ugly, dirty that I wince with pain everytime I step out of my home. I can no more recognize the big warm and airy village called Madras I grew up in.






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