Today, as most days these days, I woke up finding myself with not that much to do. As I am still new in this city, I thought it would be nice to go to a new neighborhood I haven’t seen before, and explore some sights of this city. After rigorous research (i.e. plugging “things to do in Bangalore” to google), I decided to venture out to an area called Basavanagudi. Apparently it had a place called The Bull Temple that was a sight of sorts in this city, as well as bustling market roads with little shops and stores selling all kinds of fascinating things I definitely don’t need, but probably would still buy.
So, I jumped on an auto rickshaw (generally referred to as “autos” here, I think to distinguish them from the peddled rickshaws) and asked the driver to take me to Basavanagudi. What followed was a conversation I find myself having at least twice a day on average here. The driver says “Mam, at least 200 rupees”, to which I respond with a sound of some sorts that is meant to convey amusement and shock and disagreement. I usually make a move to leave the rickshaw at this point, as I let the driver know I am aware how far I am going (in this case about 5.5km), and I know what the regular fair is (20 rupees for the first 1.8km, and then 10 rupees for each kilometer after that – so, with this math, my trip should have been around 60 rupees).
I’ll begin a conversation with the driver to try to get the price down to something I can live with. Now, at this point I’d like to note that auto rickshaws here have meters, and legally the drivers are required to always put the meter on when they take a customer. With foreigners, this almost never happens automatically. They will always try to ask for a fixed price, which often starts with an amount 4-5 times what the metered fair would be. The amounts we’re talking about here are very small to most foreigners – 100 rupees equals around $1.8, so we’re really not talking about huge sums of money. Therefor, if a driver will ask for 200 rupees ($3.6) for a trip that would really cost 50 rupees ($0.90) according to the meter, chances are many visitors and foreigners will just cough up the fixed fair and not argue about it much. However, as a person who lives here and uses an auto at least twice a day, I would rather not double or triple pay for every ride I take as these amounts will eventually start accumulating (and, after all, I am not really working now either), which is why I do tackle the frustrating and often exhausting game of haggle with the drivers.
So, the game continues. I tell the driver to put on the meter, he refuses and says something about traffic. Yes, there’s traffic. This is an Indian multi-million city. There is always traffic. I know I’m way outside the worst traffic hours though, so I won’t accept that as a reason for a double fare. He asks for 150 rupees instead of 200, I continue to move out of the auto tossing my shoulders and shaking my hand. “No,150 is too much! Meter!” I insist, knowing I won’t probably get him to put on the meter, but I might get him to come down a bit more. I start walking away to look for another auto to hail down, as he pulls up next to me again and tries once more: “Ok ok, meter times 1.5!”. This is something they also try very often – either double meter price, or 1.5 times meter price. The reasoning is usually either traffic, or rain, or that it’s far, or that it is simply an area they would, for whatever reason, rather not drive to. Just like in New York, auto rickshaws that are on-duty are not allowed to deny a ride, but of course this happens all the time and there’s little one can do in that situation. I sigh loudly and dramatically, shake my head again to show I do not agree, and continue to walk away. Finally he shouts after me: “Ok ok miss, meter+20!”. This basically means I pay the fare according to the meter, plus 20 rupees extra. This is often the compromise I end up settling for with the drivers, and something that other visitors in Bangalore, and probably in other big Indian cities as well, might want to keep in mind too. The drivers rarely go for just the flat meter fare for foreigners, but even a little extra will do. Instead of having to pay double fare every time, meter+20 rupees is a good compromise.
Haggling with the auto rickshaw drivers isn’t fun, and it can also be hard when you have no idea how far you’re going or what the regular fair should be. It’s always good to try to find a compromise that will still include having the driver put the meter on, for two reasons:
1) You’ll know you’re not over-paying by ridiculous amounts when the meter is on, and you’re paying a fare that is meter+small extra sum of money
2) You’ll start to get an idea of how much trips cost in the city you’re in. I often go to the same places from my house, so I am starting to remember how much certain distances are on a meter, and can more confidently tell the drivers I know what the real fare should be.
Now, there are times when the autos legitimately are allowed to charge more than regular fare. I am still trying to figure these exceptions out, but from what I have gathered so far, night fare is 1.5 times the meter prices, and is charged between 11pm and 5am (though the drivers will ask for evening fare usually after 8pm), and on holidays and Sundays they often also ask for more than just the meter fare.
As a foreigner in this city, I also have to evaluate my bargaining position each time. During the day, I’m fine and I have all the time in the world to haggle with drivers and keep hailing down new autos until I find one who is willing to put the meter on for me, but especially after it gets dark and if I am by myself and need to get home, I usually can’t stand around on the side of the street for very long. Heavy rain also gives all the power to the driver – when I get stranded in monsoon rain, usually with my phone and my laptop in my backpack, I just have to jump in the first auto that stops for me and pretty much pay what they are asking, and the drivers also know this. Earlier today, I had to pay double what I wanted to because I got surprised by pouring rain and thunder. I was walking in an area I wasn’t familiar with and couldn’t find a place to take cover in, so my only option was to jump into a rickshaw. Of course, a ride in a rickshaw in pouring rain will usually result in me being soaking wet – but at least I can somehow protect my laptop. I think I need to get a rain cover for all my electronics here.
I finally made it to my regular coffee shop and out from the rain, and will write an update about my adventures in Basavanagudi later. Right now, I need to warm up with a cappuccino and gather some strengths to haggle with yet another rickshaw driver when I eventually need to make it home from here. At least I know what the price should be – around 70 rupees, not 200. But maybe I’ll go for meter+20.