The magic of the auto-rickshaw in Mumbai


When you’re in a hurry when it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit outside and you’re stuck in horrible traffic, your best transportation option is one of the more than 300,000 auto-rickshaws (also called autos) that operate in Mumbai. Well, at least that is what I was told when I first arrived to this frenetic city. These small three-wheel cars play a very important role in the complex public transportation system operating in Mumbai that includes buses, trains, trams, monorails, taxis and more recently, Uber.I find the auto-rickshaws very efficient and cost-effective. You can find them everywhere in the city except in the old Bombay. Although they are small, they can surprisingly carry up to three people at a time. Usually, auto-rickshaw drivers don’t speak English, so it’s a very good way to learn a few words in Hindi and practice the simple sentences I have learned in my Hindi classes. Some of the most useful Hindi phrases I have learned since arriving in Mumbai are the following: “straight” (sidha), “turn left” (agla left), “turn right” (agla right), and “stop” (bas). In addition, I have learned to master how to use my mobile device’s GPS to provide basic directions to drivers. I have started to feel like a native Mumbaikar.

Trips in auto-rickshaws can be stressful at times. Oftentimes, roads are very bumpy, so it becomes a little bit painful to spend a long period of time sitting in this small car. Other times, if it is raining very heavily, you can get totally soaked, even if the driver is trying his best to protect you with the curtain attached to the car. Whatever the outside conditions, however, the bumpy trip is always full of excitement and surprises. For instance, drivers wear a nice khaki uniform and drive barefoot, which is something I have never seen before coming to India. In addition, they love to put some chili and lemons in the bumper or in the front wheel as an amulet for good luck and safe driving.

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When you get to your destination, you can determine the total amount due for the trip in a simple mechanical display. Interestingly, this display always gives you a different amount every time although you might be traveling the same distance and time. And lastly, but importantly, if you are riding an auto-rickshaw, always make sure you have change to pay for the fare and very rarely do drivers have change.

Overall, I love using auto-rickshaws, and this is my main means of transportation to go to work every day. I will definitely be missing them when I leave India.

Pablo Nunez

Pablo Nunez is working out of Mumbai, India, with Swadhaar FinServe, an Accion partner and microfinance institution, on a small and medium enterprise lending project.

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