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GPS and receipts will not stop Delhi’s auto-wallahs from overcharging: Simon Harding

September 27, 2012

Guest post by SIMON HARDING

Last week, the Delhi High Court gave the go-ahead for the compulsory installation of GPS systems and printers in the capital’s auto-rickshaws by dismissing petitions against the policy from auto unions (download judgement .pdf here). The GPS kits are supposed to allow the Transport Department to track the movement of Delhi’s autos. The printer will provide the passenger with a fare-receipt, which will show the distance travelled and the amount paid. The policy will eliminate over-charging and will provide “secure and transparent travel” to the capital, claims The Hindu.

Sadly, the installation of GPS systems will do little to address the problem of over-charging. On the contrary, it may actually exacerbate it.

Delhi Integrated Multi Modal Transport Systems (DIMTS), a joint operation between IDFC and the NCR government has been granted a monopoly on the GPS and printing equipment; a captive market of 55000 autos.  The GPS and printer will cost the auto operator Rs. 13,500 up front. An additional Rs. 15,000 will be payable to DIMTS every year, according to the Court’s judgment. Both of these costs come despite the availability of GPS systems on the open market for Rs. 5,000 or less.

The vast majority of the capital’s auto operators are contractors who own anything up to a few hundred autos, which they rent out to drivers. The contractors will foot the bill for the GPS systems and printers by raising rents on their auto fleets. The Rs. 15,000 per year charge will ensure rents remain high. Far from the 50 paisa passenger levy the High Court envisages, passengers will pay extra as hard-pressed renter-drivers will have to haggle even harder with passengers just to maintain their income in the face of significant rent increases.

Some will argue that drivers will have no choice but to go by the meter as the Transport Department will be tracking their every move through the GPS system. However, the Transport Department does not have the capacity to handle routine paper-based administration of the city’s auto fleet in an efficient manner: commercial license take months to process, bribes are needed to ensure even routine work is completed and the department enforces a series of ad hoc rules designed to facilitate graft. The Transport Department is simply not capable of monitoring the movements of 55,000 autos on the road twenty-four hours a day. A receipt may tell passengers if they’re being overcharging but it will not allow them to do anything about it.

The mandatory installation of GPS systems and printers will not change the argument over the fare most Delhites have them they flag down an auto. In order to get rid of the hassle and stop drivers fleecing passengers, the costs incurred by drivers must be reduced. Freely issuing auto permits would cut their value from Rs. 4-5 lakh to virtually nothing. This would increase the number of autos on the streets, cut rents, lower monthly loan repayments for owner drivers and encourage auto ownership, all of which would allow drivers to stop haggling and switch on their meters.

The current ruling is just a quick technical solution designed to tighten the screw on drivers, whilst leaving the root causes of overcharging untouched.

(Simon Harding is currently studying for a PhD at the University of British Columbia, Canada. His research interests include urbanisation, migration and public transport in South Asia, particularly in Delhi.)

See also:

Previously by Simon Harding in Kafila:

From Kafila archives:

12 Comments leave one →
  1. September 27, 2012 5:26 AM

    This is EXCELLENT analysis. Can someone pl. connect me to Simon Harding. Have a few policy issues to discuss with him.

  2. Vasant Sharma permalink
    September 27, 2012 7:48 AM

    The system whereby contractors own a number of autos has to be done away with. The driver should be the owner of the auto or at least a family member. The customer suffers because the driver wants more to compensate the exorbitant rent he pays.

    • JGN permalink
      September 27, 2012 3:08 PM

      What is the amount of “rent” paid by an auto driver in Delhi? About two weeks back an auto driver in Mumbai told me that he is paying Rs.150/- per day to the owner of the vehicle. Neither did he demand anything over the metered charges nor did he refuse to take me to my destination, though he was also not very happy about the present fare structure.

      Auto drivers in Calicut (Kozhikode) are known all over the state (Kerala) for their honesty. They never charge anything over the metered charges.

      Why the Auto drivers in Delhi and Bangalore have problems?

  3. Run permalink
    September 27, 2012 1:20 PM

    Well, damned if you do , damned if you dont. Whinge about everything. Do you have a better solution ? Please dont say ‘Reduce Corruption and increase transparency blah blah blah. We all know that, we dont need a Simon Harding to say that.

    Will this GPS/ Reciept concept improve the situation ? Yes, Will it reduce the hardships of commuters ? To a certain extent Yes, Will it program the autodrivers in a positive way ? Yes becuase there is a reciept and the GPS means he knows he might be watched. Will it solve all the problems of commuters and autodrivers ? NO

    It is step in the right direction. Thanks Delhi High Court.

    • Simon Harding permalink
      September 29, 2012 5:51 AM

      I’m not making a simple call for less corruption and more transparency. That is an India wide problem and goes without saying. What I am saying is that auto permits should be freely issued. This could be done by a High Court decision and would largely do away with the need for complex technical policies such as GPS systems (which not even taxis have). The GPS decision is a step sideways, rather than forward.

      The debate around autos in Delhi is always conducted in terms of a zero-sum game: make it harder for drivers and you’ll make it better for passengers. This is not the case.

  4. Sohail Hashmi permalink
    September 27, 2012 3:33 PM

    The question is why does the court ask the auto drivers to buy the GPS system being pushed by a government that has not exactly covered itself in glory in any of the ventures that it has pushed. The government is still trying to live down the ignominy that it has earned for it self in its management of the common wealth games. why allow it to initiate something that is only going to benefit the company selling the GPS system and the printers

  5. pdj permalink
    September 28, 2012 8:44 AM

    @Sohail and others: The autos cannot use any run of the mill GPS system. It has to have some customizations such as storing and recording the auto and driver details, recording all routes travelled as well as communicating to the transport departments backbone infrastructure. Further the printers arent all that cheap. The transport department should possibly offer 1 or 2 alternative units to choose from and that would probably reduce the price by a 1000 rupees or so. Please have a look at the GPS units that taxi companies use – they are a lot more sophisticated than the bare bones entry level units that come for around 5000.

    I also question the logic and math being used in this article. The contention that the fares will go up because of the GPS system seems to have been made without doing much serious analysis. There is a one time cost of 13,500 and a recurring cost of 5000 a year (in the next paragraph the author says the annual fee is 15000 – I am a little confused!!) .

    Let us make the following assumptions
    1. The GPS unit + printer will last only 3 years
    2. The auto works only 6 days a week (the auto usually works all 7 days)
    3. The auto picks up 30 fares a day ( a very conservative number )
    4. 1000 rupees a year towards maintenance and repair for said GPS unit and printer (exagerrated costs – it should be less than 500 a year)

    The total fixed cost is 13,500 amortised over 3 years (4500 a year) and the yearly running cost is 6000 (5000 + 1000 as above).

    If we assume they work 6 days a week and make 40 fares a day the cost per fare would be Rs 1.12. (i.e. 10500 / 9360)
    i.e. numerator = 10500 = Fixed cost per year + maintenance per year + transport dept fee per year
    denominator = 9360 = 312 days * 30 fares per day

    Think of the benefits that this extra 1.12 is going to give the customer. My experience with Delhi autos has been terrible. In most cases the over charging is close to double the meter fare. This extra 1.12 is something the consumer will happily shell out as her net saving per ride will be in the range of Rs 10 to Rs 100. Also in the long run the auto drivers will also benefit as more consumers will be willing to use autos if the fares are charged as per the meter. If there is a huge jump in auto use the government can allow more autos to ply the roads – more jobs for auto drivers, more jobs in the factories , more jobs in the maintenance sheds and a happier more comfortable Delhi. Win Win!!

    The autos need to be reigned in. Delhi has a wonderful metro system and what it lacks is consistent last mile connectivity. The autos should do that job but arent. Instead they are unscrupulous , dishonest and borderline violent. This move by the government is a step in the right direction and should be lauded.

  6. Pratyush permalink
    September 28, 2012 2:14 PM

    The Delhi High Court order restricting number of autos need to be removed. All other problems will be taken care of automatically. If you artificially restrict supply, the cost will increase (basic economics).

  7. suresh permalink
    September 28, 2012 3:30 PM

    @pdj:

    Kaushik Basu once made the point that a law is useless if everyone agrees to ignore it. Just because there is a GPS and printer doesn’t mean that they will get used: a situation can develop where both the drivers and the customers can agree not to use them. To illustrate, in Chennai — the city I am familiar with — every autorickshaw has a meter but I’ve never yet seen it being used. Everytime the fare is fixed through “bargaining” between the customer (in my case, my wife/mother) and the autorickshaw driver. My experience with Delhi is that the meter gets used more often than not currently. I may be wrong but I think that one consequence of the GPS introduction will be Delhi moving in the direction of Chennai.

    Even if the GPS does get used, what is to stop the autorickshaw driver from haggling with the customer and demanding 1.5 times (or whatever markup) over the fare? Notice that in this case, there will be no *identifiable* proof of malpractice. The printout will show the correct fare but the additional money won’t show up at all. This is exactly what happens in other sectors in India like the Railways. (If there are vacant berths or seats, the TTE has discretionary power to allot them and she/he often does this by asking a “premium” of the passenger. The receipt will, of course, show the passenger paying the correct sum.)

    I agree with Simon: I don’t think this policy will go any distance towards solving the problem. There are two things I find disheartening about this episode. One is the fact that this policy seems to have been formulated without taking one of the main stakeholders into confidence as is shown by the fact that it has been challenged legally by the autorickshaw drivers. Whether we like it or not, no policy on autorickshaw fares can work if the autorickshaw drivers don’t cooperate. Given this, formulating a policy which essentially starts from the premise that the drivers are criminals is not a sensible way to proceed and yet, that is exactly what the Delhi government has done. The second thing I don’t like is the interference of the judiciary in the nitty gritty of policy making. I don’t think this is at all healthy for the long term health of our polity.

  8. September 29, 2012 11:18 PM

    well, its been two years in delhi and i am also one among the millions of people who face this problem of overcharged auto fares every single morning. i do agree with your point that the new gps system won’t be much of a help and would only add to the hassle. while, none of the auto drivers agree to put their meter down(lying for obvious reasons) and usually charge you double or more than half of what should have been a reasonable charge, i have derived my own method to convince them for a ride with the meter running.

    STEP 1- where ever you have to go, always ask the driver for the address(as for instance, if you need to go to malviya nagar pocket B random flat, say him you don’t know the route or the address.) convince him that you are not acquainted with the route. lie smart.

    STEP 2- ask him if he’ll go by the meter and keep insisting on it. do not agree on anything but meter.

    STEP 3- in all probabilities, the auto driver will agree as he’ll consider you as some dumb passenger he can milk by taking him/her through a way longer route

    STEP 4- as soon as you step in the auto, switch back to your normal delhi mode and show him the normal or the shortest route possible. TADDDDAAAA :D

    with me this logic has worked. all the time.

  9. najma rehmani permalink
    October 1, 2012 9:23 AM

    Simon Harding rightly indicated the root couse of the problem but I am sure neither the court nor the goverment will take it seriously or even think about it, as they have more important things to do like privatisation of higher education,FDI in retail,increase fuel charges etc.

Trackbacks

  1. Delhi High Court Directs City Auto-Rickshaws To Install GPS - MediaNama

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