Auto drivers in Bhubaneswar are friends to those in need
Auto drivers of the Twin city have a reputation of being rude and rash but the members of Smart City Online Auto Association are an exception.
BHUBANESWAR: From counselling fellow members on cordial behaviour to being Good Samaritans to passengers in distress, a group of autorickshaw drivers in the city is doing all that it takes to make autorickshaw service more people-friendly and rebuild the community’s image.
The drivers had organised themselves into a group - Smart City Online Auto Association - eight years back to help other auto drivers in need. In contrast to what auto drivers are often seen as by many - rowdy and rogue because of certain incidents of misconduct - this group never misses the opportunity to treat passengers well and give the best experience they look for while travelling in an autorickshaw in the city.
The welfare works of the association have also been lauded on many public forums.
“Like any ordinary citizen, I also had my own reservations against auto drivers. However, when I joined the profession due to some financial issues, I found the misconduct of a few drivers is denting the image of the entire auto driver community. No one was ready to help them in need because of this reason,” said Dinabandhu Nayak, the founder of the association.
He went on to say that after online aggregators started operating from the city, many of them who joined the service faced protests from the drivers operating offline. This coupled with the bitter experience he had been through in the profession pushed him to form the association.
After the association registered formally in 2016, Nayak said their primary focus was on improving customer experience. Accordingly, he along with other group members started counselling the drivers of their community on engaging with passengers in a friendly manner to boost their business.
“I interacted with other drivers on sustaining this initiative to make auto-rickshaw rides, one of the most affordable transport options in the city, friendly for all. I formed a WhatsApp group where more number of auto-divers expressed their willingness to join. There we discussed the good things that we could do to provide better service to customers,” Nayak said.
Accordingly, he said they started providing free rides to differently-abled persons. “Be it Vani Vihar or any other place, where ever a divyang (differently-abled) travels in our auto, we make sure he/she travels on the route free of cost,” Nayak said.
"The members of the group even have helped hundreds of passengers giving back their forgotten bags, phones and other articles during their travel in an auto-rickshaw.”
As Good Samaritans, drivers of the association are also helping victims of road accidents in reaching hospitals. “We do it for free of cost as a token of our responsibility towards society,” Nayak said.
To help members of their own community, the association ensures free treatment to drivers in accidental injuries and provides Rs 30,000 to the family in case of death or permanent injury.
The group sets up a water kiosk during summer where drivers volunteer to distribute water and juice to passersby. And recently, Dinabandu and other members of the association have joined hands with civil society members to provide free coaching for competitive exams to needy students.
The association’s work is indeed praiseworthy, said Babuli Sahoo, a customer. Sahoo, hailing from Angul, said when he was in Bhubaneswar for treatment of his nephew suffering from a chronic disease a year back, it was the members of this association who came forward to help the family with blood. “None of them charged a single penny from us to collect the required number of blood units,” Sahoo said.
From 20 members and a single zone, the group now has at least 18 zones with hundreds of drivers as their members. “Our conduct and voluntarism are also inspiring auto drivers of other cities who have also started associating with us,” said Venkat Senapati, another group member.