Saturday, 21 August 2010

Transport woes and monsoon lows

I don't have a car, and get about by autorickshaw most of the time, occasionally in taxis or when kind friends ferry me about. I don't love autos, but I deal with them, somehow. Now, in the midst of a patch of particularly heavy monsoonal rains, it's really quite tiresome. Last week, while holding a pile of heavy textbooks, my laptop and various other accoutrements, I waited for an hour and a half for an available and willing auto to take me home, part of that time in the rain.

Autos in Delhi are difficult. Rickshaw drivers operate on very narrow margins: most pay high vehicle rents (because there are a finite number of auto licenses in the city) and make 300 rupees on a good day ($US6.50). As a result, there is an inevitable haggle over the price: they often ask for two to three times (or more if I'm with a firangi) what the meter will show. Now that might be fun if you're a visitor to India, a prelude to taking a turn at the wheel yourself, but believe me, three times a day is not fun.

Taxis are also difficult. You won't see them out on the street like in Bombay, usually you have to find a taxi stand, haggle a price, and then be prepared to pay an extra 20 percent for air conditioning. They will tell you the meter is not working, or there is an extra charge for "luggage" (your laptop bag).

Meru Cabs (AC, compulsory meters, clean, often English-speaking drivers) are a godsend (as are all the other so-called radio cabs) but you have to call and book, and often, particularly during these rainy days, they are booked out.

We have a driver with his own car on speed dial, whom we use regularly and have always had a great relationship with. He works full-time for an American woman who is often out of town, so he moonlights for us and others. He is great, entertaining and trustworthy, but sometimes his juggling act wears thin.

Like today. Despite having booked him many weeks ago for a Very Important Airport Pickup, he admitted yesterday his employer, who is abroad, had demanded he drive a friend around. Never mind that said friend is on an expat package, has her own car and driver and is perfectly capable of arranging her own transport, this woman blithely disregarded any notion that her charge might have made other arrangements for some extra cash.

It was the second time in a week she'd done it. Earlier he'd had a full day's work that he'd had to turn down because she had him do an airport pickup for a friend.

Later, when Jason saw him, this proud, strapping, Punjabi Sikh was in tears.

Of course, he is on her time, her dime. But if she is out of town, is it not okay for him to make some extra money on the side? She pays him 30,000 rupees per month, or around $US650. Apart from car repayments, he has a wife, a mother, five children, an alcoholic brother and his children to support. Who needs more help - his family, or her spoilt expat friends?

I'll tell you who - almost - lost out in today's equation, me. I convinced him to squeeze in my job, and we went to the airport to pick up my aging parents - my father is not a well man, just a few days out of hospital in London and with a dangerously infected diabetic foot. The rain was pelting down, the roads were swamped, in some places knee high, causing major traffic snarls. Inside the car, the temperature and stress levels were rising: would my driver have time to do my airport run and be on time for Spoilt Expat Friend? He then said, please get another taxi from the airport, I have to leave after we get there.

No amount of pleading, cajoling, even blackmailing from me could get him to change his mind.

At the airport I slammed the door and stomped off, umbrella aloft, and after finding my parents joined the long line for the pre-paid taxi booth. Shortly after, however, my cabbie had a change of heart, and took us home, racing off immediately so he could still make his other appointment.

So while I got what I wanted, the whole incident has just left a bad taste in my mouth. His employer leaves Delhi in a month, after which he is without a regular income, but until then he is beholden to her and her complete and utter lack of understanding and empathy. On the flipside, while I want him to do the best for himself and his family, I feel like my needs were not met. I am quite happy other times to do what it takes to help him out - whether it means hopping out of the car and into another waiting taxi so he can do another job, but there are times when I really need reliability.

I think the answer is to get a car and join the motoring fray.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had a regular taxi service who often double booked me. I'd expect the driver to pick me up at 7:30. I'd call the driver as I always did when I was ready to go, but every so often he would pretend he was "stuck in traffic". Which I'd believe, except I could hear people talking in English in the back of his cab. Once the passenger even took the phone and laughingly apologized that my driver would be late.

It got me furious, but I knew it wasn't the driver's fault -- the boss double-booked him in hopes that I'd be working late.