Two weeks ago, in Vile Parle East, there was a commotion on the street near where I was talking with two people I knew. It looked like two men were fighting. The two men I was with immediately rushed to intervene, while I watched from the sidelines.
What had happened was that a man had flagged a rickshaw to take his aged ill mother to a nearby hospital and the rickshaw driver refused to take them there. Furious and frustrated, the man beat the rickshaw guy mercilessly. The poor driver was paying for the collective refusal of several rickshaws to ferry him while his tired mother waited helplessly.
While this is a dramatic incident, it is quite common. Rickshaw drivers routinely refuse passengers to places they don't want to go to and accept rides only to select locations - for various reasons which basically boil down to convenience. They may not wish to go out of their area, or they may want to avoid areas with bad roads, or very commonly, they want to avoid places where they will end up at a rickshaw stand after dropping off passengers (at a rickshaw stand, they can't refuse any location a passenger wants to go to) and so on. It is a common frustration to be refused by many rickshaws before you get one.
Passengers are increasingly furious, but feel helpless, since rickshaws may be public transport, but them having no set rules or locations, it is difficult to police this kind of misconduct. And misconduct it is. Idea of a public vehicle is that it is available to all potential passengers indiscriminately. In reality, there are few places where you can easily get rickshaws for.
Yesterday, I carried Nisarga about half way to Andheri in blazing afternoon heat, because 27 rickshaws refused to go to Andheri Station. That is right Twenty Seven rickshaws refused point blank to go to Andheri Station from Vile Parle Subhash Road. When we did Nisarga's BERA Test last week, 13 rickshaws refused to travel from Vile Parle East Hanuman Road to Nanavati Hospital in the West. It is quite common to waste up to half an hour to get a rickshaw to an inconvenient place. I know a friend who was not able to travel from Vile Parle East Nehru Road to Aarey Milk Colony after waiting for two full hours. Going from Borivli West - Yogi Nagar to Thakur Village Kandivli East or even the National Park is a big challenge.
This makes for a lot of angry people. Rickshaws will drive by empty but refuse to take passengers to places they don't like. These areas being relatively prosperous and busy, there is no dearth of passengers to quickly find another who wants to go to a place they like. On the other hand, this pretty much amounts to serious failure of public transport in some situations.
They charge us extra at night for the inconvenience (isolated areas don't have further fares after dropping passengers requiring a driving back to a suitable place), but whether it is day or night they don't actually take inconvenient fares. Then what are we paying for, and why?
Together with some friends, we have come up with several ideas as a beginning point for getting some accountability into an inconvenience that is fast escalating into unreliable public transport.
- Find out and publicize complaint numbers for rickshaw drivers who refuse passengers and file complaints.
- Try and get traffic officials to run stings for such rickshaw drivers or encourage citizens do them and publicize on a wider scale and demand that they are made to follow rules.
- Never ask if a rickshaw will take you to a certain location, but sit first, and then give directions. If the driver refuses, ask for his licence and note details and the rickshaw's registration. The practice of asking rickshaw drivers locations before boarding should be stopped completely. It would be good for them if their comfort could be accommodated, but unfortunately, this is resulting in many parts of the city being extremely difficult to find transport for.
- There needs to be something more that we can do, because none of this guarantee that the drivers will play fair. Find out, collaborate on ideas. Someone had suggested a boycott with people offering lifts in personal vehicles, but this is not so practical.