I feel like a liberated soul these days..!
I work out of home…!One of the best things about working out of home in a city like Chennai is that I do not have to deal with “monsters” – aka auto rickshaw drivers! It has been over 2 weeks since I got into one. And believe me folks it has made me into a different woman! For starters, evenings are more pleasant for everyone at home as they do not have to soothe someone ( me) who has just emerged “wounded” after an ‘encounter’ with a monster on three wheels! And most importantly, I do not have sneezing bouts!
During the course of the last few years I have travelled a number of times to Delhi and then once to my childhood town of Kolkata and now more recently to Mumbai.
One of the most striking things about Chennai is the awful public transportation system.! Sure, there are buses but think of those who do not want to take these buses? Auto rickshaws in most cases serve the purpose in all other Indian cities. In some like Kolkata and Mumbai taxis are a good option too. I remember on a recent trip to Mumbai paying Rs 75 by taxi for a distance for which in Chennai I would have paid twice by auto rickshaw! I could not believe it – I remember peering into the meter of the taxi a couple of times before I paid the fare. The same goes for Delhi- I paid less than Rs 100 by auto for a distance that in Chennai would have been hugely expensive by the same mode of transport! Kolkata is ofcourse another world- the taxi fares there have to be paid to be believed –they are so affordable!
So what makes Chennai like this? People tell me it is the nexus between the law enforcement agencies, the political parties and the auto rickshaw system. There is NEVER a question of using the meter – it is like the dinosaur – just for history books! The drivers start by quoting a minimum fare of Rs 100 no matter what may be the distance…! And the worst thing being intimidation particularly if you are a woman. These chaps do not want to go to any place which is in an inner road and in case you do not know the address properly –god help you! I think I used to spend about one third of what I earned in my last job just on auto fares!
And the love that auto drivers in Chennai have for the inner roads is something about which ballads can be written – I can never convince an auto guy in this town to drive on a main road. Excuses like ‘ long route” are completely beyond me.
The roads in Chennai present a challenges that are very unique to themselves . Each road is a glorified by lane- narrow with dividers making them narrower. They have not evolved since the 1970s. There are fly overs at places that are least convenient for traffic management. And the variety of vehicles ( if I may say so…) is mind boggling! Starting from two wheelers (including cycles, scooters, motor bikes and all the others in their family) to huge cars, buses, tricycles ( aka as fish carts) and tempos. The buses are not just used for general public transport- they include those that carry large numbers of students to the various engineering colleges around town and employees of the various IT companies! So can you imagine the plight of someone like me in that yellow color three wheeled vehicle trapped between two such buses inhaling huge amounts of smoke every day? There have been times when I have felt suffocated – just unable to breathe.
The Times of India tried to have a campaign for introducing meters back into the autos. But I think being an” immigrant “into the city they probably never understood the lack of public spirit in this town. People in Chennai are very weird –we behave like we live in a small class 2 or class 3 town where it comes to spending – this includes public transport. The AC buses which have been introduced are apparently not doing too well in sectors which do not have any IT companies. People prefer to get into the regular buses, or take “ share autos” or try to get on a “two wheeler”. There are some who continue battling with autos like me- but we are very few in number and dwindling by the day.
Traffic in every Indian city is bad but the awful way in which it is managed in Chennai requires special mention. Mumbai has clearly delineated zones within which auto rickshaws are not allowed to ply ( they ply only in suburbs and not in the main town). Delhi autos are restricted to neighborhoods but they can be engaged if required between neighborhoods.
I remember landing mid morning at Chennai airport once to be faced with a strange problem-the black and yellow taxi (aka as pre paid airport taxi) had put up a board saying “ No taxi due to traffic congestion and heavy rains” ! People from other towns were amazed. Meanwhile the “ Fast track” taxi guys were making a killing charging people whatever they felt like . “ Aren’t there any Meru or Radio taxis here?” asked a fellow passenger from Mumbai. Come to think of it… there aren’t any such taxis-we only have “ Fast track”, “Bharathi” “ Friends” taxis etc . They are fairly okay but then their efficiency during such stress periods is terrible. They sometimes just cancel a booking without any warning.
Now, I find that Chennai is getting ready to have a metro. I have my own personal reservations about how much it would be used. Remember your average Chennaite and his/ her aversion to spending money on transport? We would like to spend lots of money covering ourselves with kilograms of gold but not take a stand to make our traffic situation better or travelling in little more comfort. We prefer to travel triples on motorbikes carrying suitcases and trunks along with our two kids. My husband once asked a person travelling like this at a traffic junction” Ammi kal mattum than neenga kondu varale illa?” ( I think you only did not bring your grinding stone). Yes, I am all for value for money- but I am not for it if it involves complicating a traffic nightmare or making travelling a horrendous experience!
What I think is the need of the hour is a strong stand to be taken by the government on traffic management notwithstanding the political consequences of such decisions. It is only then that we will be able to wake up from this nightmare!