Delhi Autorickshaw Drivers - A Fare Deal ... ?

Autorickshaw (aka autos) drivers in Delhi have always been notorious for fleecing customers and demanding exorbitant fares from passengers. Autos are supposed to charge by a fare meter (installed on the auto). A fare meter is an essential part of any public transport system. All the autos had a meter but no driver ever used them. Even people in Delhi got used to haggling with the drivers before they took an auto. I have spent good part of 25 years in Delhi and have never travelled in an auto that runs on fare meter. Even Lonely Planet Guide and other Delhi travel advisories told people to fix rate before they get into the auto.

I moved to Mumbai three months back and on a recent visit to Delhi, I was surprised to see that somehow all autos were going by meter. All means all autos on the road. I took autos at 2 AM, 8 PM, 6 AM and all the time I paid by meter. This was something new to me. How can this radical a change happen in less than 3 months? What changed? This is equal to a social epidemic. The very basic behaviour of people (in this case autodrivers) changed in less than three months. What brought about the change?

It took almost a day to figure out and this is what I could find.

In last three months, few things changed.
1. The per kilometre tariff for auto was hiked (from Rs. 4.5 per KM to Rs. 5.5 per KM).

2. The fine on not going by a fare meter was hiked. From Rs. 100 to Rs. 2000. In case of second default, the autos could be impounded.

3. Policemen were given incentives for catching defaulters. I asked a cop, he did not share the exact numbers but he said that if they catch even 5 defaulters a day, they make same money as they would make in bribes in a week.(This is what a cop told me when I acted as an innocent college kid :))

Now these three changes had following effects
1. Auto Drivers: Most of these auto drivers do not actually own the autos they drive. These are rented (Rs. 250 per day). It was easy for most of the drivers to cough up 100 bucks if at all they were caught. They could either pay Rs. 100 or bribe a cop Rs. 50. To compensate, all they needed to do was over charge 2 other customers. Now with fine at 2000, if they are caught even once, they are in a soup (large fine and possibility of not getting the auto for next day). And with super-incentives to cops, chances of getting caught and fined became higher. It also became difficult to bribe cops as they make more money if they issue challans (traffic violation ticket).

2. Cops: Earlier, cops were happy catching autos for petty things (no driving license, improper uniform etc) and getting Rs. 50 as bribe. With high incentives, they cracked down on autos like anything. They stop autos at random and instead of asking the driver, they ask the passenger about the fare and if the meter is being used or not. Suddenly cops were making quick and easy money and above all, this money came in form of awards. This probably became the tipping point and suddenly every auto driver wanted to go by meter.

So basically it took two simple step to solve an age old problem of over-charging. An awesome application of what Robert Cialdini, Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell and a lot of other unknown social scientists have been doing (I am taking the liberty of categorizing all of them as social scientists).

Moral of the story is that next time you take an auto in Delhi, make it a point to go by meter (spread the Ideavirus - become a sneezer).

Post BFBV, everything is reduced to application of Mental Models.There are quite a few evident Mental Models in the entire episode. The ones I could spot immediately are
1. Reciprocation – we have increased the fares, now you start using the meters and stop fleecing the commuters.

2. Incentives – catch defaulters and make fast money.

3. Punishments – large (comparatively) and enforced strictly.

4. Positive Feedback Loop – Initially cops made money, they got stricter, autos started going by meter to avoid getting caught, cops getting even stricter with lesser autos defaulting.

If there is a different opinion, please share. Please point out flaws in arguments.

I have also made following two assumptions
1. No one paid fines earlier and most cops were happy to take bribes than issue challans (aka traffic violation tickets)

2. Assumed that this exercise is success. However the effectiveness is yet to be proved. Until commuters start demanding to travel by meter and use of meters becomes a norm, the effects would start fading in some time.

Also posted on PseudoSocial at Delhi Autorickshaw Drivers - A Fare Deal ... ?

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