Perhaps the only time one came across a polite and pleasant autorickshaw driver in Tamil Nadu’s capital, it was on celluloid with superstar Rajnikanth doing the honours in the highly engaging film Baasha. In reality, the opposite has been true with Chennai auto drivers generally being a boorish, irksome and lawless lot fleecing city residents without a care. However, things seem to be changing for better with the commencement of Auto Raja Services.
The brainchild of Aishwarya, Anubhav and Vineet, Auto Raja Services is the first of its kind in Chennai. Their venture started with a desire to know why things were the way they were and to find a solution.
“One often hears complaints from people about auto drivers being a menace on the roads, having no traffic sense or that these guys really fleece you,” says Aishwarya.
The three decided to take matters into their hands and started a thorough research by interviewing 75 auto drivers in the city who had their own tales of woes to share. They followed this up with interviews of 100-odd customers who had their own haranguing stories to tell. Trips to the traffic police department and the trade unions helped the trio gauge the economic challenges faced by auto drivers. After collating and studying the data collected, they decided on a sound fixed fare system that would be mutually beneficial to the auto driver and the passenger.
Further discussions with entrepreneurs from Bangalore led them to realise that proper structure of fares was the need of the hour.
Championing the cause of the lower strata of society, the trio gave up promising careers to become entrepreneurs. Aishwarya has an M.Sc sociology degree from Oxford, Anubhav is a computer engineer who worked for McKinsey while Vineet is an electronics telecommunications engineer, who worked in research in IIT and later in Bosch India.
The three do-gooders also surveyed 50,000 families in the slums of Kannagi Nagar, where most auto drivers live, and were shocked at the socio-economic issues these people were grappling with. Then they met the director of Chennai City Connect Foundation (CCCF), an NGO that works to provide urban infrastructure and concluded that the two major blocks in the profession concerned fare revision and fuel. “The revision of fares every two years did not measure up to the hike in petrol which provided an excuse to these auto drivers to overcharge passengers triggering quarrels,” says Aishwarya.
For all the research and hard work they put in, their innovative enterprise managed just one auto driver when they launched on April 1, 2013. But 13 more joined in a week later and today Auto Raja has over 200 auto drivers. Auto Raja fares cover maintenance, fuel cost, medical, living expenses and savings too.
Banks have also come forward to educate these ‘rajas’ and some ranis as well on finance, savings, investments, macro credit replaced by micro credit, that too free of cost. “Workshops are conducted free of charge for personality development and etiquette, with the drivers willingly participating as many of them are graduates and post graduates in this trade,” says Aishwarya.
There are several social spin-offs too with Brahmakumaris helping in the uplift of these people and several NGOs too doing their bit teaching ‘the art of living’. The company also works closely with the All India Bank Officers Association. With the auto clan undergoing a much needed makeover, it seems the dark days of commuter harassment and vociferous haggling are now behind us.
For an autorickshaw ride with AutoRaja in Chennai, call 7200321294