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.
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