'Death to the Auto': 9 reasons to ditch the autorickshaw

When autorickshaws go off the road, as it happened earlier this week in Mumbai, everyone, the media included, speak of the inconvenience. And the horrendous time commuters have getting to work or returning home.

This is a silly way of looking at it.The true inconvenience for citizens is when they are plying as usual.

To me, autorickshaws are a menace, and a huge one at that. It cannot get riskier than riding one. And everyone persists with it. About 60,000 of them are manufactured every month.

It's time they are done away with everywhere – and not just in Mumbai — unless the manufacturers come up with a better design, the civic bodies improve the roads, and the authorities bring the drivers to heel.

The possibility of any one of these happening is remote. Forget all three happening together or in quick tandem.

Let us focus on the vehicle. They have all the approvals from the authorities for design and safety. Otherwise, they would not be on the road, would they? Yet, to me, they are shoddy, very unsafe, and a danger to life and limb.

Here is a list of reasons to ban them.

One, it is a cramped cocoon from which a passenger cannot see what is around, not even the other vehicle that is bearing down on it from the rear, side or front.  In case of an accident, of whatever kind, only the driver knows what happened and how; the passenger wakes up to it only post facto.

Two, it has a single headlight with barely enough lumens to bring it anywhere close to a dim lantern. It does not illuminate the path ahead, not even shine enough on a potential danger till it is upon us. Its only help is to warn on-coming vehicles that a three-wheeler is heading towards it.

 Death to the Auto: 9 reasons to ditch the autorickshaw

The autorickshaw is a cramped cocoon from which a passenger cannot see what is around, not even the other vehicle that is bearing down on it from the rear, side or front. Manan Vatsyayana/AFP

Three, come rains, the driver is running it on the roads virtually blind. The driver often operates the wiper on the windscreen manually, manoeuvring the vehicle through the maze of potholes, bumps and other obstacles with the other. The originally fitted single-stalk wiper is never in place, which the RTO inspectors ignore.

Four, if the cars now have, by law, seat belts also on their rear seats, the auto does not even have a restraint on the sides. A bump on a speed breaker or a lurch due to bad roads can throw one out of it entirely. It can be nasty.

Five, despite the hood, a rain can drench a passenger. The plastic, rexin or other polymer sheets strung on the sides are of no use; they flap and allow the rain to come in. Have you seen a passenger stepping out looking like a wet chicken, waist down? The manufacturers think, it seems, India is a rainless country.

Six, the din it causes is truly phenomenal.  While the permissible sound allowed by legally stipulated standards is 50 decibels (dBs) during the day, it is 40 decibels in the nights. However, most autorickshaws emit sounds that are 70-75 dBs and above.

It has its own harrowing implications. Remember you can't usually hear your cellphone ring when riding an auto. So forget about hearing the person calling you, in case you do feel the vibration and say hello. The person at the other end sure can't hear you either. If you happen to be caught in a cluster of autos on a road, you can't even hear yourself think. It is like being on a construction site.

Often, you need to shout or the auto driver does not know you said "turn left and then stop at the third gate near that chai ki tapri". Auto drivers are not like the London cabbie, who, if given the postal address, will stop at the proper place at the end of the trip.

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Seven, the piercing noise emitted is beyond the design of the vehicle, incorporated by the genius of the tribe of auto-owners and drivers. They tinker with the silencer, or the muffler, a cylinder-like thingummy with holes drilled into it.

They are replaced with another one with larger perforations. Drivers say it provides better pickup and saves between Rs 100-200 per day, providing more km per litre of petrol or a kg of CNG, depending on the kilometres run.

You think that is standard auto noise. You have to realise how these devils add to the ambient noise on the street, how they let you know that an autorickshaw has entered your street by waking you up. It has the potential to make us deaf even as the authorities remain blind to it.

Eight, there is a thing about the springs. Indian cars have been sufficiently Indianised by providing tougher suspensions, at least in the middle and high-end models, to cope with poor roads. Autos have the crudest of springs, as if it was a deal between the manufacturers and the orthopaedics for ensuring a steady supply of patients with spinal problems to the latter.

Of course, the more sensitive drivers do try dodging the potholes, but to no avail. If the front wheel avoids thudding into a ditch, either of the rear wheels plunges into one, resulting in a nasty shake.

To find out how unsafe it is, take a long ride on a potholed highway, say from the suburbs to the airport, on a rainy, windy night and you'd know how all these add up to menace one's life.

Nine, with no headroom, on a potholed road, the head bangs against the crossbar beneath the hood, resulting in many a concussion on the head.

And we talk of only tampered meters, rude drivers and refusal to ply a route.

When such demons rule the road, and are categorised as public transport, the state finds a good alibi not to improve its public transport. It is to the state's advantage, not citizens.

Note, the four auto manufacturers don't even have to advertise their brands or have PR guys tout their models — as they do with cars. Little wonder, today's autos are almost no different from the original beast that was brought to the road as the poor man's transport.

Figure out what that means to us.

To me, it has to be death to the autos.

Updated Date: Sep 28, 2011 15:54:33 IST