Bangalore Auto Rickshaw Survival Guide For Foreigners

Bangalore Auto Rickshaw Survival Guide For Foreigners

Since moving to Bangalore in May, I have – hand on my heart – the most stress-free transportation situation!  No more trains or commutes driving myself into work through stop and go traffic.

Taken during one of my first auto rickshaw rides back in April 2011 🙂

You see, in India they drive on the left side of the road and have a very “balls to the wall” style of driving that is quite aggressive and unique compared to European or American standards so they generally stick us foreigners in the safe hands of a local driver – probably more for their own protection than the comfort reasons I so enjoy but who I am I to argue?  As such, and as part of my relocation package, from the moment I arrived I was given the best, most trust-worthy and dependable driver in India.  So much so that even after I changed jobs and lost that “benefit” that I have personally retained him as part of our new family of staff who help me and my daughter so happy live in India.  Shiva speaks brilliant English, is NOT a horn-blowing addict like most Indians, he helps me with my blogs and local research needs which is quite fantastic…and he’s always around.  Well, that is except on Sundays!  And that, my friends, is when my inspiration for this article started.

Normally I hibernate on Sundays and turn into something of a couch potato but at the moment I am in the middle of a series of articles reviewing the hot venues to go for Sunday Brunch in Bangalore so – obviously – I need to move around now on Sundays.  In the past, whenever I was on the go on a Sunday I always booked a taxi that would stick with me for the day but at the moment we are really watching every Rupee we spend so we opted to take an ‘auto’ instead (here the locals call rickshaws ‘autos’ because they are auto rickshaws, not the traditional peddled rickshaws).

And to be completely honest, given a bit of my prissy nature, I always booked taxis because they are simply more comfortable.  They ensure that I arrive to my destination still smelling like my favourite perfume instead of foul smelling exhaust fumes that have permeated into my clothes, skin and hair which happens more often than not in an open vehicle moving around in Bangalore traffic.  My prissy side hates that part so much that I only use ‘autos’ when I am going a really short distance, for example from the high street in our ‘hood back to our flat.

Both my daughter and I find ‘autos’ quite fun, very “Indian” and pretty damn thrilling as they zip through traffic.  But not all ‘autos’ nor all drivers are created equal.  Some drivers go so insanely slow that I’ve actually wanted to whip them a bit to speed them up (okay, not really hit him but I do usually tell them to please speed up when even the bullock carts are going faster than we are).  I guess that some of them do this to make the journey last longer and run up the meter.  Then there are other times that a driver will speed along sooooo fast and drive so erratically that it seems like they are on a journey to hell.

My daughter, who takes ‘autos’ 20 times more than I do, swears that her worst experience so far was the driver that returned her home after the recent Metallica concert.  She swears that he was actually trying to kill her and her friends but this of course can’t be proved.  He was going so fast, almost hitting other vehicles and almost going up on 2 wheels at times.  Not good!  The adventure is so much like a video game at times that she’s actually making a funny video at the moment with clips from her ‘auto’ drives set to music from Mario Kart or some Super Mario Brothers game, which is aptly appropriate music for this mode of transportation, trust me!

My opinion after Sunday is that ‘autos’ are still cool but their drivers are often blood sucking vampires.  My daughter and I set out from our flat and walked to the first busy street around the corner  and waited only a few seconds before the first empty ‘auto’ stopped for us.  He asked where we were going, which was about 15 minutes away, took a good look at us and said “150 Rupees”!  That was insane, the ride should cost a maximum of 50 Rupees, even with a bit of traffic so we said, “no, put the meter on.”  He refused, so we walked away.  The guy yelled back, probably wanting to haggle but I really hate that and I simply wasn’t in the mood for it so we waited for the next one, hoping our luck would improve.  This same thing happened again and again three more times, with each one giving us a price from 80 Rupees to 120 Rupees and each one – illegally – refusing to put the meter on.

Then our luck changed a bit, in sort of an odd way.  The next ‘auto’ guy to stop didn’t know where we were going – or probably better, couldn’t understand my accent when I told him (read here, this is a common problem I have here…but I am trying to “Indian up” my accent lately!).  So I asked the driver to hold on one second as I rang Shiva quickly and then passed him the phone.  Shiva explained, in Kannada (the local language spoken here), exactly where we wanted to go.  He started the conversation with “My madam wants to go to XYZ place…” and I’m sure he referred to me again as “his madam” which made the driver realize that we lived here and that we weren’t tourists so when we sat down he immediately put on the meter and we were off.

Ahhh Rafi …. the cheating, corrupt auto rickshaw driver du jour. This guy embodies everything that gives a bad reputation to the drivers in Bangalore

After our lovely Sunday brunch at one of my favourite downtown hotels, my daughter and I both had separate plans.  I was headed to happy hour at UB City (10 minutes away) and she was headed to Forum Mall with friends in Koramangala (25’ish minutes away) but we decided to share the ride so we hopped into the only ‘auto’ that was parked outside the hotel on a pre-negotiated flat rate deal because I was stepping out first and I wanted to be sure she had enough money and there would be no surprises.  We agreed on 200 Rupees, which was INSANELY high but I didn’t want to haggle too much with a guy who I was about to entrust with my daughter and to be honest we were told that the trip to Koramangala would take between 45 minutes to an hour so it seemed fair.  But that wasn’t at all how things ended.  First, she arrived about 20ish minutes after dropping me off.  She also informed me that the driver wouldn’t let her go unless she paid 300 Rupees instead of the 200 he agreed on.  What an ASS!  He was a huge guy and she wasn’t going to argue with him too much so she paid it…but luckily we both had snapped photos of his identification plaque so I need to go report him to the police (that will likely give me a whole new blog post in itself too as a completely unique experience so I’ll link to it afterwards).

So…how can foreigners avoid these pitfalls and bullshit and try to receive the same treatment that a local does when taking an auto rickshaw?  Keep in mind that it is illegal for auto rickshaw drivers to refuse to put on the meter!  And often times if you are not going to the “right” place for the driver he will refuse the destination, which is also not permitted if they are not off duty.

Here is what you do to have an ‘auto’ experience like a native:

  1. When the ‘auto’ stops, don’t talk to the driver first…just hop in and sit down
  2. Tell the driver where you want to go
  3. If he says no, then turn on your best Indian attitude – get tough and show your authority – and start aggressively asking questions like “is this a public service?” and questions of that nature.  Stay put and say very clearly that you are not going anywhere and not going to leave.  Be strong and take control of the situation.
  4. Once that’s done, make sure he puts the meter on.
  5. If the driver refuses to put on the meter then instantly take out your camera or phone and snap a photo of the ID plaque in front of him and tell him you won’t haggle on price and that you want him to put on the meter.
  6. If that doesn’t work then whip out your phone and say, “that’s fine, I’m going to call the police.”  It is likely that just the threat of a call to the police should be enough to light a fire under the driver’s ass so that he starts the engine AND the meter.

In Bangalore just dial 100 from any phone and you are connected instantly to the police, I’m not sure in other cities.  The police respond to this type of call within about 10 minutes and they instantly write a ticket and fine the driver around 500 Rupees or more.  If the officer is corrupt then he might take cash instead and not write the ticket but this still gets the job done with respect to your problem.

One final tip: in case you are desperate, in a hurry or simply don’t feel comfortable getting aggressive….try negotiating the price on the meter + 20 Rupees.  This is a tip from my daughter and works for her and her friends more often than not.  Definitely beats the insane flat rates that the drivers try to scam out of us foreigners so give it a try!

After that, just sit down, hold on and enjoy the ride…Mario Kart style!!!

XOXO Angela

© 2011 Angela Carson

Angela Carson

At 21 I left uni, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler, and drove from my native California to live an adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I've explored 37 countries on 4 continents, residing in 8 of them (currently Indonesia's Riau Islands is my home). I even have a private pilot's license and was shot at once by bandits!

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Andrew Paul Whyte

    The whole time I was there I was unable to get them to turn on the meter once. I was usually happy to negotiate a price with them, as the price different was quite negligible to me and I imagine would make a huge difference to them.

    The part that frustrated me to no end was what we called the “re-negotiation”, it happened almost every time. When we would get to the destination they would suddenly have a lapse in memory and decide that we had agreed on a price that was almost double. I would always stand firm, and refuse to play their games.

    On the flip side on the occasions where they would take us directly to the destination, be pleasant enough to us, and not spend the entire ride trying to take us to their cousin’s “trinket shop” then I would usually give them an extra 50-100.

    1. angela_carson

      hahahahha omg you are SO RIGHT about shopping Andrew, drives us nuts too. Even if I say “i live here” three times the guy will still try. Hope all is well down under, babes, miss you here in Bangalore.

  2. Kavita

    I think they drive us natives insane as well. I take a deep breath before flagging one down and can only hope for a peaceful negotiation or a meter that’s correct. It’s very frustrating indeed. I guess you know that going by the metre doesn’t necessarily mean all’s well, right? Some of them fiddle with it so the rates 1.5 to 2 times the real cost!

    1. angela_carson

      Fair enough, seems like everyone is a victim to their insane practices now after reading a couple of the comments here and on my Facebook page. I really thought we expats were receiving special treatment but sadly that’s not the case 🙁

  3. ghati

    is your daughter planning on joining ucla sept 2012 or is it 2013 ? How she handling the academics in the school, are the courses and tests tough ? To get into ucla from bangalore, I would imagine you need to be in the top 10% of the class….

  4. debjani

    I hear you completely. Auto rickshaw drivers in Bangalore just drove me nuts. And let me tell you – the attitude of fleecing is not just for non-Indian “foreigners” – they consider every non-kannada speaking race to be foreign. I remember once one demanded “double meter” on a perfectly normal day and when asked why – he had the audacity to say “because you guys sit in AC rooms and earn pots of money – and we slog it out in the heat – that is why”. I was zapped.
    If I ever live in Bangalore again – I hope and pray I would never have to take an auto. If I ever have to – I would remember your tips ! I am quite impressed that you have a pretty effective list – which could only be gathered from years of experience !

    1. angela_carson

      Hey, thanks for that! And to be perfectly honest, my list was compiled by interviewing people and not experience but I did try to gather enough information to make it seem like I knew what the hell I was talking about 🙂 hehe

  5. Vineeth

    Hi, All of us(May be every bangalorean!!!!!!) under gone very tough situation with Autowalas. Its become part of our life.

    1. angela_carson

      I am so surprised that it’s a problem for everyone…how sad. Really thought it was just expats that were taken advantage of 🙁

  6. Shishir

    Hey like reading your articles gives me an insight as to what expats experience in Bangalore. maybe you should just hire a permanent auto for the day would work out cheaper. this way you know the driver and the rates are already fixed so no haggling and peace of mind when you dont have your driver around, else get your drivers license and join the mario kart world.:)

    1. angela_carson

      YEAH….can’t wait to start being a part of the traffic problem in a cute little mini cooper 🙂 Zoom zoom!! 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment, hope you’ll keep reading.

  7. Karthik

    Hello Angela,
    Responding to your post after a brief gap. Autos started in India as a common man’s Taxi, with time it has also become a sheer luxury in most of the city. In Chennai where i live in Call taxis offer a better fare than the autos, can you imagine that some autos dont have meters or just the outer skelton is available. Its a “Take it or FO ” case most of them adopt in almost every city in the country. Like your daughter experienced travelling on 2 wheels was just giggling to myself when I was reading that experience. Many a times I hold the bar in front tightly not to slip off the auto when he /she overtakes or just turns, some are slow as you said, cant forget the experience when I was in an auto & kids were cycling past us & still the cabbie was cool like a cucumber. The tips given by you works in most cases but there are some who have contacts with the cops/ Politicians. They instead of obliging may create more fuss at that point.
    On the whole the write up was cool & i really enjoyed reading it.
    Keep writing, smiling & enjoying Bangalore

    1. angela_carson

      Hi 🙂 Thanks so much for your kind words and for the tips and insight. Really was nice of you to take the time to comment. –angela

  8. PencilGirl

    The autowallas of Bangalore are a species unto their own. I’ve had all sorts of experiences with these people. I spend over 30 minutes every morning trying to find an auto to college- which, by the way, is less than a 10-minute ride from my place. I could actually walk to college in half an hour, but I’m usually too lazy to do that, so I ready myself to lock horns with the autowallas.
    There are people who demand double, sometimes triple the fare upfront, and refuse to turn on the meter. Then there are some who’ve fiddled with their meters to gather excess fare. And then there is one class of autowallas who take it upon themselves to give you an impromptu tour of the city. These ‘Bangalore darshans’ will take you to your destination alright, but only by the longest, most round-about possible route. If you don’t know the way to where-ever it is you’re going, they take advantage of it. Then there are some who ferry more than one person or group to the same destination and collect the fare individually- kind of like the share-autos of Chennai, but without the cheap fares.
    Some are rude and often aggressive. Some are sly and cunning, and try to con you out of your money without creating a scene. There are a few (one that I’ve met) who are actually nice people and go out of their way to help you out- but they still demand exorbitant fares. This was probably the most interesting combination ever, because after haggling over the price with him, and not exactly in the most polite manner, we paid him and walked off. Just then this drunk guy started making advances on my friend and me. The auto guy I’d just fought with actually stepped out of the auto and shouted at the drunk guy to behave himself and back off. 😀 🙂
    And then of course, there are the poor, innocent, autowallas who’re just trying to earn an honest living. Because of all the others, these poor folks always end up with a bad reputation though they do nothing to earn it. Just goes to show how unfair generalizations can be. 😐

  9. manjeet

    the procedure u told to hire an auto is totally wrong.

    1) stop the auto and ask if he will go to xyz place.
    2) if yes, then askhim to put meter directly
    3) if he is telling that he wont put meter,then ask how much (for this one shud know the approximate price to his destination)
    4) if that suits then fine,otherwise catch other auto.

    if you start arguing with auto drivers, it can happen that they make a group,then u r in some trouble.
    if u just sit in the auto directly without telling destination and negotiating price,it can happen that you will get ripped off. it can happen that auto is coming from somewhere and u stop and just sit, and he continues driving ,and then u guys discuss, then he is going to charge u minimum amount.

    1. angela_carson

      hehe… well, I guess everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As for me, I am personally glad that there is always more than one way to do things, more than one way to view life and more than one opinion on any given topic. I took my notes and advice from locals and people I know. I’m assuming you did the same. The advice I was given was for how to avoid having to stop and ask and then watch a dozen autos drive away…it is more the “how to avoid the problems from the normal way of doing things”. Thanks for sharing your way 🙂 Much appreciated. Cheers, angela

  10. Vinay Rao BL

    Im not a patient reader but i understood your bitter experience better,Being a part of INDIA and INDIANS i would, apologise for wrong happen to u mam, but i try to make understand that all indians are nt as the same, what u experienced.

    thank you for being our guests, i hope all goes well to others
    sorry to introduce me lately, im Vinay Rao BL, a student {Master of social welfare} and a concern volunteer to improve backward people.
    Thank you

  11. David

    Just found this just after having a horrible, day wrecking experience with an auto in Bangalore where he left me stranded and having to walk 20 mins back to UB City. Going back in a few weeks time so will definitely give this a try. Thanks! 

    1. AngelaCarson

      I never reported the douche who abused my daughter that day and I really regret it.  Always snap a pic on your phone of his license when you first get in, and then take the time to report the losers.  I will do it next time, it’s the only way to teach them a lesson according to my driver Shriva!!  Cheers, hope you’ll follow the blog 🙂

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