Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why I'm indifferent to Meter Jam

I refrained from writing about the consumers' boycott of autorickshaws for two reasons; first I hardly ever use autos and second I don't have a constructive solution to offer to commuters. I got dragged into this by Shreeni. I must concede that the situation is terrible, and the autodrivers of Bangalore deserve the bad name they've accrued over the recent years. But here's why I still won't support Meter Jam.

Market can pay more than it currently does
I admit I don't have the stats and I am basing this argument on a hunch, but I think Auto fares are artificially, and unjustly, kept down against market forces. If you were to ban fare meters and let the Invisible Hand (and a million emotionally charged bargains) determine the prices of each journey, I'm certain that the fares would be significantly higher than the current average. Even now, the reason that the autowallahs refuse to take you is not because they want to starve themselves, but because they know they'll get another sucker to pay more. I don't get the fairness of this, by keeping the fares low we are pandering to the rich folks at the cost of someone who really needs the money. The same 'victim' who didn't have qualms about paying Rs.60 for a pepsi inside the multiplex is suddenly outraged when he came out and talked to the autodriver. I can see how frustrating this must be to the autodriver, and I'm not counting having to live in a city that's becoming costlier at a rate faster than the autofares are increasing. (Disclaimer: To understand his problem is not the same as justifying his behaviour.)

Reciprocity of ill-will
So the consumers boycotted. And they are probably thinking smugly "Ah! That should teach those guys a lesson. I showed them!". Now do they expect the autodriver to go "Oh! I've learnt my lesson. I'll mend my ways"? Reality check. He's probably thinking "Now, let ME show you". I think Meter Jam will only antagonize the equations.

Generalizations are easy
Take any set of people in my country and we can easily dismiss them with an insulting generalization. Civil servants are weasels. Bus conductors are rude. Kannadigas are harsh. Bus drivers are maniacs. Marwari businessmen are X. Muslims are Y. If you want to believe any of them you'll get a million pieces of corroborative evidence. Even the autodrivers are probably thinking "Software engineers are arrogant pricks". You can't escape those generalizations, but to act on them is slightly immature.

YES vs. NO campaigns
I have significantly more belief in YES campaigns than in NO campaigns. I'd rather waste my energy telling you why you should use the bus than trying to tell you not to use the Auto.

Lastly, I remember my childhood neighbour, Chandranna, who now drives an Auto, and my dad's car occasionally. People in the other thread believe that these autodrivers make a lot of money (they probably forgot that fuel has to be bought!). Let me assure you that this guy can barely make ends meet. He works as a security guard during the night to ensure that his kids go to school. I also remember the time I took an auto to a multiplex in Jayanagar. The autodriver wanted to know, in painful detail, what a multiplex is like. That's when I realized that this guy will probably never see the inside of a PVR movie hall. I thought of him when I read about Meter Jam. The least I could do is to stay indifferent.


Unknown said...

I totally agree on the reciprocity of ill-will & generalizations.

I also believe the fares of autos are quite low given the rise in fuel prices etc. I don't mind paying more than I pay today but I'd like it to be predictable.

Nobody likes the feeling of being 'fleeced.' This is what I feel when I am trying to get a ride with one. I simply do not have an idea of what the 'real' price is!!

vineet said...

A man who pays 60 Rupees inside a multiplex for a Pepsi bottle bargains with an Auto driver not because he doesn't have enough money but because he doesn't want the auto driver to have more than something he, you and me think he actually deserves. We don't want to be "cheated" and yes, we don't want the Auto Drivers to earn more. We have this mentality. I've no hopes of things "improving' through meter jam. The last thing it can do is make the drivers talk among themselves "We'll have our day too!". If I'm too disturbed with Auto drivers, I should prefer buses. Simple. It's just like - If I feel that PVR makes me pay too much, I don't go there. Do I protest!? Yes I've every right to pay the right price and go in an auto but what is the "right price"!?

Shreeni said...

Generalizations are bad. Yet, generalizations are what allows us to make reasonable decisions in a otherwise highly complex world. Can you design a system to cover every single edge case? That said, I would be worried if the generalizations are taken from a small sample (as happens in case of Muslims for instance), but in case of Auto drivers, I vehemently disagree. Cases like Chandranna (assuming he is a reasonable Auto driver), unfortunately, don't form the generalization. They are the edge cases.

You have linked to my blog about "other people making too much money". In a comment that I have given, I have explained how the fares of Autos in Bangalore is comparable to that of Taxis in Singapore and yet the cab drivers in Singapore are significantly well off (close to 70% of the median family income) than Autos drivers are in India. I also conjectured that it is because Auto drivers make fares unpredictable and hence force customers to use other means of transportation and hurt their own business. By skipping that, you are biasing your argument in a different direction, but ultimately ignoring the economics.

The argument of Pepsi for Rs. 60 and Auto drivers fleecing is quite apt here. I don't drink pepsi is multiplexes for exactly the same reason - I believe they are being unreasonable. And for the same reason I believe protesting through meter jam is a fair idea.

By your logic of "reciprocity of ill will", no protest, however peaceful should ever be made, because in every single case, reciprocals can be made, right? So, civilized society should then be formed of hordes of subservient people?

Again, your argument of "YES vs NO" misses the point. Its not about Bus vs Autos or Car vs Autos. I believe that Autos have their place in a developed urban society, even if that society has buses and metros and cars. And hence, even if you can spend time convincing people to take the bus, what would you tell an elderly person or a pregnant lady or a person in a rush or a person carrying luggage all of whom are going to be in some state of discomfort taking a bus all the time?

Deepak said...

Wow! I didn't know there was so much to be said about the Meter Jam :)

Sats, Vineet and Shreeni: Firstly let me make it clear that I'm deliberately taking the contrarian view, because I felt there was no representation from the Auto drivers. And I said I'm indifferent to the strike, not for, not against.

While I won't address each point, there's some rebuttal that's worth putting forth.

My link was referring to Saurabh's comment. Sorry, I should have been clearer.

You simply exercise a choice by not drinking the multiplex pepsi. Yet you don't demonize the multiplex owners. You don't move governments to set a cap on the price of pepsi. I still detect a hypocrisy there. Our response to the two situations is not analogous.

You drew the wrong conclusion about my point on reciprocity of ill-will. Goodwill is not the same as servitude. Of all the people who vehemently lent their voice to the meter jam chorus, I wish I had heard one guy who wondered if the prices were really what the market can afford. One guy who would acknowledge the constraints of the guys who run the auto. That would have been goodwill but I didn't hear that. I have no respect for such un-objective polarization. That's exactly the same phenomenon as the unionization that you pointed out in your write-up.

Anyway, I'm laying this hot potato aside now.

@shreeni: I must say this would have been a lot more interesting to debate while walking around the EGL campus :)

Kavs said...

I feel bad for people like Chandranna...I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of auto-drivers. The ugly being the one where the auto-driver started haggling for more than what i had bargained for (which was way more than what the meter would have shown - and no auto goes by meter in and around Hitec City and similar areas in Hyd) and refused to stop the vehicle!
If the (totally tamper-proof) meter is corrected to the market levels, can we assume that there wont be any bargaining?
Commuting by bus would be the best option, in ideal situation. Since there are so many areas where the connectivity is not that great, autos serve as a mode of public transport.
And,unfortunately we arent even talking about the safety part of the problem - late night (post 8 pm)rides, rash driving, foul language, etc.

Supreeth said...

Since we are talking about markets, what about the abundance of supply of autos?

What if every Seena, Manja and Somu (who played goli in the ground near the local temple instead of mugging equations in his PUC like the rest of us) wakes up one day and decides he'll be an auto driver?

His role model- his friend Suresha who works exactly 5 trips a day, rips the hardworking S/w engineer off and spends the rest of his day sitting around on the somari katte bragging about his conquests in Koramangla.

Profiling apart, becoming an Auto Driver is definitely the easier option for these guys especially with the general perception being that auto drivers are invincible and can get away with anything.

Everyone has to work according to his strengths to earn what he deserves. An auto driver gets paid only the value he delivers which is getting you from point A to point B. Tell me how is it fair that I pay my hard earned 50 bucks to this guy to take me from Leela Palace to Indiranagar Sony world, even when the value he is delivering to me is only worth at max 15 bucks.

Deepak said...

That's exactly the problem. The value of the ride you mentioned is Rs.15, why? Because Supreeth thinks so? If you let the multiplex decide the price of a pepsi (without getting into the absolute value of that brown drink) why don't you give that same freedom to the Auto guy?
If Supreeth doesn't like the price he doesn't use the service, just like he has a choice of not buying the pepsi.

Deepak said...

@supreeth: btw, you are reading the market wrong. If there's really an abundance of supply (as you seem to think) prices would go down. They'd be falling over each other to give you a good price.