Shared-auto system in Bengaluru: Much-needed but ignored

An auto stops on Tannery road. Five adults seat themselves in the back. One adult, with a toddler on his lap, shares the seat with the driver. The overcrowded auto carries them forward, navigating narrow roads. It swiftly drops them in a location and picks up more passengers going to a nearby destination.

This is a common practice across Bengaluru today where there is insufficient last mile connectivity. The concept of shared autos prevalent in Chennai and Hyderabad has slowly entered Bengaluru over the years, but this informal system is relatively unheard of and seldom spoken about.

Auto drivers who allow more than three passengers are exclusive to key pick up points within each locality. Select auto-stands close to offices and markets operate in this unconventional manner, while the traffic police usually turn a blind-eye to the sight of an overcrowded auto.

Regular three-seater autos accommodate at least four to six passengers inside with the occasional parallel seating attached to the front-bar, and ferry passengers to destinations within a short distance of 1 to 2 kms at a mere Rs 10-20 per person. For instance, employees who stay in Electronic City find it useful to hitch a ride to their office located around the block, and HAL employees sometimes just want a quick ride to their office from Byappanahalli Metro Station or Hoody Railway Station in the morning.

Everyone ranging from domestic helps, students, plumbers to IT employees and entrepreneurs use shared autos for lack of options, as buses cannot enter narrow streets and the metro connectivity is limited. This is a low cost mode for passengers and high earnings for the drivers – the money spent by the passenger individually is much lesser than the minimum fare in an individual auto, while money collected from all passengers by the auto driver is higher than the amount collected from an individual passenger. This win-win situation makes it attractive to all. It is also environment-friendly, and reduces the number of vehicles on the road.

Citizen Matters spoke to a few commuters and identified some of the following short routes traversed by shared-autos. A few locations at which they can be boarded and returned back from are:

  • Tannery road circle to areas in Shivaji Nagar
  • City Market to Goripalya and Neelasandra
  • Russel Market near Luna Sweets to Tannery road and parts of Shivajinagar
  • Thanisandra road to Nagawara signal
  • Opposite NGEF bus stand near the Byappanahalli Metro Station to HAL main gate
  • Kathriguppe Janatha Bazaar to Ittamadu
  • Electronic City toll gate to Wipro and Infosys campuses
  • Jail road opposite the Reliance Digital to Haralur main road
  • Annekal Railway station to bus stands and vice versa
  • Trio International School in Maruti Nagar to Kodigehalli circle
  • Hoody railway station to Prestige Shantiniketan

Citizen Matters visited four of the aforementioned areas, and found the below observations.

People come to this auto stand at Russell Market opposite Luna Sweets to hop on to shared autos. Pic Credit: Seema Prasad

Tannery road circle

Prakash Chauhan Sen (28) used share-autos from Russell Market regularly with four to five people sitting beside him post-midnight while working erratic shifts in Just Dial on Cunningham road. He finds the shared autos by walking to the market in Shivaji Nagar to return home to Frazer Town between 12.30 am to 2 am for Rs 10-Rs 15 per day. “Since there are no buses at this time of night, I use shared-autos as an emergency mode of transport very often. I find it economical as well,” he said.

Auto driver Riyadh Ahmed who has spent the last 35 years driving in the city said he avoids this system that started 15 years ago in the Russell Market area. “It initially started off with drivers offering lifts to groups of girls to woo them,” he said.

But drivers like him are a rarity. About twenty auto-rickshaws, old and new, are parked around Tannery road circle junction on Shampura main road near Richards Town the whole day, waiting for a crowd of people to come aboard. One such auto-driver is Moula Khan, who stays ten minutes away from Tannery road circle. He makes Rs 500-Rs 800 a day by running the shared auto. “I spend Rs 400 per day on fuel, hence the money I have left is still not enough,” he said.

Other drivers here are locals who prefer to stay within the DJ Halli area and avoid long distance trips, as they sometimes do not find people to carry when they come back. “I would make the same money by going long distances, say Rs 80 to go to RT Nagar. It is easier to earn the same money faster within the area,” said another auto driver Imran Pasha. They also take solo passengers but only to a few close-by areas.

A traffic policeman who often manages the DJ Halli ward, Sharique Ahmed said that buses drop people at the Modi Road junction, and from here the shared autos follow the ‘Bombay to Goa’ route from Tannery road to Shivaji Nagar. (The name relates to a movie by the same name but the connection between remains unknown.)

NGEF bus stand

Citizen Matters spoke to three auto drivers who run shared autos parked at the location. On condition of anonymity, an auto driver said,”I do this during the morning hours… most of them are employees of HAL. I only take them across this 1 km stretch for our mutual convenience.”

For students visiting the malls in Whitefield this is a cheap way to commute. Amy Hsiung, student at St’ Josephs Evening College, has traveled several times from this point. “I found it convenient and easier to use while roaming around the city with my friends. I have never had a safety concern but I heard about an accident that happened with my friend after which I became cautious.”

Not every auto driver in the city is familiar with the shared auto practice. Seasoned auto driver Muqtiyar travels all over Bengaluru. He was surprised when a group of five people wanted to reach the HAL main gate immediately. “I had parked my auto near the Baiyappanahalli Metro Station three months ago and around 10 am in the morning I got a huge sum of Rs 100 for this short trip. I generally make Rs 100 for a longer trip. I was taken pleasantly by surprise,” he said.

Electronic City

Residents of Neeladri road depend on this system to reach their offices in Electronic City Phase 1. The size of the auto however does not change in the outskirts. Only the number of people are more. Arundati Pal, an engineer with Infosys, has seen residents take these autos near the SBI bank at the toll gate in Electronic City, and in front of Wipro office. “I used to travel in shared autos a year ago as the condition of Neeladri road was bad during rains and peak hour traffic,” she said.

Kathriguppe Janatabazar

Shared-autos ferry people from Kathriguppe Janata Bazar to Ittamadu and vice versa, during mornings and evenings after 6 pm. Navya S, deputy manager at a finance company, has been travelling via shared autos for the last four years from Kathriguppe Janata bazaar to her home in Ittamadu. She gets down at the bus stop at Janata Bazaar. She has used both licensed and unlicensed auto-rickshaws, though majority of them display licenses in their vehicles according to her.

The drivers recognise her by face as she is one of their most regular passengers at night. “I use shared-autos while coming back from work at 8.30 pm. Usually four people sit behind with me, mostly women, and two men on both sides of the driver. They drop us off at our various stops,” she said. She has her own precautions too. “Once the auto-driver was fully drunk and I was scared but we all got down together before the drop point,’’ she added.

Anekal Railway station

The autos here can be found on Attibele road, and have more seating capacity than the general autos, accommodating 10 to 12 people at a time. Advocate Kishore Kumar commutes to the City Magistrate Court all the way from Anekal by train. When he misses the train and needs to go by bus, he uses the shared auto system to take him to the closest bus stand.

“There are not many buses on this route. I have traveled with more than ten people in one auto. This is different from the regular auto. For my safety’s sake, I try not to sit with the driver or behind the main-passenger seat. I wish the Transport Department would provide more vehicles,” he said.

Shared autos used near the Annekal railway station accommodating more 10-12 people. Pic credit: Kishore Kumar

Problem of unlicensed auto drivers

Despite some of the drivers not displaying license plates, the shared auto system is thriving. But there are a few who still fear law enforcement.

According to N Mayalagu, President of Karnataka Janaashraya Auto and Taxi Drivers Association, the reason behind  unlicensed auto-drivers increasing in the city is due to unemployment, migration, and the educational qualifications required to get a license from the Regional Transport Office.

The rules say that an auto-driver should have passed 8th standard in order to get a driving license. The drivers usually have all the documents, including property licenses and ration cards, except the education certificates to apply for licenses, making it one of the biggest obstacles.

“Sometimes, people want to moonlight as auto-drivers for periods of unemployment and take to the profession for a short time. If the government can relax these rules and allow illiterate people to get licenses, it will be easier to legalise the system. The association tries to educate the drivers and strongly recommends that they follow the rules, ” he said. He said that drivers who don’t get licenses are not given the manual by the Regional Transport Offices (RTO), and not aware of the rules.

In the past, when traffic police in Bangaluru East tried to educate the drivers against over-crowding, they complained that the drivers were not ready to accept the message, the lack of education being the main hindrance to communicate with them. Also, the traffic police constables say they are being rotated on a daily basis to different spots within jurisdiction limits, making it difficult to monitor single locations.

The statistics below reflect the number of registered three-wheeler light motor vehicles and in use in Bengaluru alone. (The records do not specify the number of autos, showing only the licensed three-wheelers used for general transport.)

Month/Year Number of three-wheelers
January 2016 1,60,530
January 2017 1,71,911
January 2018 1,82,953

Source: Transport Department, GoK

Real illegality remains ignored, unaddressed

Shared autos are illegal, because in Bengaluru, the vehicles need to have a different license to operate shared vehicles. Stage carriage license is required for vehicles if they have to pick and drop people in different points. App-based ZipGo private buses, minibuses and Ola/Uber pool services faced problems because of this rule. However after some time, all these operators are being allowed to operate.

The shared autos operating in the city seem to be unaware of the rule, and haven’t bothered to get any required license. It doesn’t seem to bother the auto drivers, because money talks and helps. Auto driver Sahil Khan, who operates in Russell Market said that Rs 200 is enough to keep the police at bay, and the bribery is widespread at junior traffic cop levels.

Surprisingly, the traffic police at the top claimed to be unaware of shared auto networks. When contacted, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) R Hitendra said that he has never specifically noticed shared autos, but if he did, a fine of Rs 100 will be imposed on them. “The rules for the number of people allowed in a vehicle depends on its size, but for autos the limitation would be three people plus one driver,” he said.

However, people who use this system of transport vouch for its utility, and want it regularised. Kiran R V, a commuter who uses shared auto from Hoody to Prastige Shantiniketan in Whitefield says: “As shared autos are useful for people, the government should check the possibilities and look at regularising it. If it is declared illegal, people like us have to wait for individual autos, pay more, contribute to traffic and still won’t be able to travel faster.”

The government as of now doesn’t seem to have thought about it. A report of the Task Force on Clean Transportation set up by Niti Ayog advocates liberalising taxi permits, but hasn’t included autos in them. The report identifes two-wheelers and three-wheelers as important, but highly polluting means of last mile connectivity, and suggests the adoption of electrical technology to overcome the challenge. This, coupled with liberalised taxi permits, might be the way to go. There is nothing happening in Karnataka yet in this direction.

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