The challenges and problems faced by Delhi’s auto-rickshaw drivers and passengers have been highlighted in a film documentary titled “Third Wheel: Auto Rickshaws – Boon or Bane for Delhi?” developed by Prabodh, a non-government organization in Delhi. The documentary fills a critical gap in the understanding of the auto-rickshaw sector in Delhi, drawing on information from an in-depth survey of drivers, passengers, noted experts and NGOs.The film explores the impact of auto-rickshaw policies and trends, including how a cap on permits in Delhi affects the cost of auto-rickshaws (a more than three-fold increase in the market price from Rs 1.3 lakhs to about Rs. 4.5 lakhs), how an unreasonable fare policy affects drivers and passengers (leading to problems like overcharging and refusal to pay), and how converting vehicles to compressed natural gas increases costs to drivers (the maintenance costs of CNG engines are reported to be 7 to 10 times greater than the costs of petrol engines).
A screening of the documentary and a panel discussion was organized by Prabodh on April 1, 2010. The audience included auto-rickshaw drivers, representatives from NGOs working in the auto-rickshaw sector (i.e. Nyaya Bhoomi, Liberty Institute, AMAN Trust, and Chetna), media representatives, and interested citizens of Delhi. The absence of any public official at the event was symbolic of their indifference towards taking a leadership role in bringing about potential reforms in the sector.
The documentary and the ensuing panel discussion concluded with the following key recommendations for reforms in the auto-rickshaw sector in Delhi:
- Removal of the cap on permits in Delhi
- Revision of the current fare structure in Delhi: Institution of market-based fares instead of government-enforced fares
- Development of an auto-rickshaw cooperative to create a brand image for the sector and improve quality of service
- Technological reforms for the encouragement of new vehicle models that are more comfortable, safer, environmentally friendly, and have reduced operational/maintenance costs
The key highlights of the documentary and the panel discussion were the firsthand account of issues faced by drivers and passengers, an exposure to the ongoing work of organizations in the sector such as Nyaya Bhoomi, and recommendations for improvements in the sector. It remains to be seen to what extent the recommendations will see the light of day, but it was clear from the audience turnout that 1) Prabodh did an outstanding job in putting together the documentary and bringing together interested parties in engaging in discussions on reforms, and 2) there is a strong willingness and commitment by various entities towards seeing some much needed improvements in Delhi’s auto-rickshaw services.