Saturday, May 12, 2012

Three wheelers – they have had a roller coaster ride lately

I have a confession. I always have a bad feeling when I try to negotiate rates with three wheel drivers. I somehow feel I have been duped or overcharged, convinced that if there was a cab at that moment, it would actually cost much less. So I am paying the extra for the convenience of hailing one! Of course when I get a chance I prefer to use a metered trishaw.

Let me get to the point I was making. The increase in taxes on trishaws was a godsend to the existing three wheel drivers, (let’s wait to see when they need to replace their existing clapped out ones) because they interpret it as it will be more difficult for competitors to join the race for fares. They will have to pay at least Rs100K each extra. They have seen their incomes erode first from a proliferation all over, and then from the metered ones that now seem to grow every day. So, fewer hires per day and less income during a period of increasing costs resulted.

That euphoria was short lived. Within a few weeks of the tax increase, it was announced that owing to the spate of accidents, many fatal, involving trishaws, that the authorities will limit the number of passengers to 3 excluding the driver. This will have consequences for hires as some try to cut costs by piling into trishaws like sardines, endangering their lives, but use it as the only option available to them, especially when buses do not run on their roads, or at times after 6pm.

Whilst this has not been gazetted yet, hence this rule is still not in force, it will mainly affect the up and coming middle class that cannot afford a car, but a trishaw as a personal vehicle is within their means. However if they have more than 3 other than Papa who will drive it, they are out of luck, now to travel with the whole family. They will feel penalized, together with some parents who knowingly send their kids in packed three wheelers, at lower costs, which they will now have to bear a bigger daily charge to send their kids to school in a trishaw.

This has become a hot potato politically as I have been asked to agitate against this rule, to prevent the State from enforcing it, as it would affect mainly poorer people who have no choice but to pack the trishaw, to save per person moving costs.

My conscience says I cannot defend them as it is patently unsafe to pack a trishaw. In fact I do believe travelling in one is also unsafe, if any of the recent images of fatal accidents involving trishaws is looked into. It is definitely going to increase the cost of travelling, and so we will be inconvenienced, however at the same breath I would contend that society pays a heavy price for this privilege and so limiting the number of passengers is primarily to help those who in fact go in them.

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