Years ago, there were days in Chennai when any random guy in his early twenties used to take up a particular profession very easily, driving autorickshaw. Though this profession did not guarantee high monetary returns, it proved to be an easy bread-winner for the less-educated youths. Autorickshaws soon became part and parcel of the lives of the common man. There were even movies made with the central character playing the role of an autorickshaw driver(who can forget Superstar Rajnikanth in BAASHA). Autorickshaws were easily accessible for people to travel in those days when technological advancements were limited. The cost of travelling in autorickshaws was affordable to the common man and hence autorickshaws flourished all across the city.There was a period in the mid 1990s when the usage of autorickshaws was almost unavoidable in the daily lives of the common man.
Then the situation started shifting towards a point where the autorickshaws became too costly to afford for the common man. This was mainly because some portion of the autorickshaw drivers turned greedy and started increasing the travel charges according to their wish. People started complaining of the unaffordable autorikshaw fares and government intervened many a times and introduced fare regulations. With time, most of the autorickshaw drivers did not follow these regulations but people had become used to the inconsistent fares. Still, autorickshaws remained the most sought after medium of common man.
Towards the second half of the first decade of the Twenty First Century, there was a sudden boom in the availability and usage of cars in the city. Sophistication had started taking the front seat and was driving even the common man to prefer cars for comfortable travel. Autorickshaws were facing heavy competition from the call taxis which had succeeded in winning the imagination of the people. There was a definite shift in people towards the call-taxis but still autorickshaws survived because of the comparitively high costs charged by the taxis.
Towards 2014, universal players like UBER and OLA entered the markets. The entry was silent, without any attention seeking noise. But they soon attracted customers with their prime business tactic, FREE RIDES. People started using UBER and OLA free rides with increasing interest and this almost made up for the lack of advertisements. As these services were internet-based, they captured the imagination of the travel-loving youth of the city. Slowly and steadily, this affected the autorickshaw rides. People started using the offers in UBER and OLA and slowly started neglecting local autos. Moreover, OLA introduced autorickshaws themselves to further affect the local independent autorickshaw drivers.UBER, being an international player in particular, is not concerned about the local autorickshaw drivers plight.
It is high time for the government to come up and regulate the rates of the taxis and also provide the local autorickshaw drivers another loop of life. If steps are not taken immediately, the local autorickshaws which are a part of the legacy of Chennai, may soon become extinct. Let us hope that the authorities involved take prompt action sooner than later to encourage young drivers to serve the people.