Last night, I took a series of share autos to reach home from Panjagutta, and this seems to be an opportune moment to take a look at this alternate public transport system that so effectively supplements and complements Hyderabad’s official public transit systems.
My ride was simple enough – I got into a share auto in front of the Y2K restaurant at Panjagutta. Once I got in, it took about three or four minutes for the auto to fill up. The driver kept calling out the destination of the auto – Jubilee Hills Checkpost – and one by one my fellow passengers took their seats. The ‘seats’ have to be described, for apart from the usual and expected three passengers in the back, there are additional, rather unexpected (to the uninitiated) seats on either side of the driver. Since I was first in, I got the choicest of seats – the middle seat in the back. Two guys squeezed in on either side of me, and two guys squeezed in on either side of the driver as well. The driver not being a greedy sort, we took off right away, and made good time to the Checkpost. Two guys got off just before we reached and I hopped off when we stopped at the red light – it was easier for me to cross to the next share auto ‘stand’ that way. The ride (4.1 kilometers, according to Google Maps) cost me 8 rupees.
I was not as lucky at the next stop – the auto I got into already had a fully packed back seat, and I had to make do with sitting by the driver. Now, a word about sitting on the driver’s side. As anyone who has seen an auto will no doubt know, the seat of an auto driver is made for a single person. The intrepid share auto drivers install a narrow wooden ledge that extends on either side of the driver’s seat. This allows one more person to perch on either side, albeit hanging on by one hand from the auto’s frame. Some auto drivers, especially on the outskirts (on the Hitech City side, this would mean beyond Kothaguda – the share autos that go to Miyapur or Gachhibowli, for example) install a more complex variation of the extension. Immediately next to the driver’s seat is a small square ledge, beyond which a narrower ledge extends. Such sets are found in share autos driven by really skinny fellows who sit on the edge of their seat so that TWO MORE passengers can be added to the front row. The resulting arrangement is like this: the driver sits on the edge of the seat, with his knees pointing sideways so that he can accommodate his legs. Two guys (it’s always male passengers – ladies always get to sit in the back) then sit as close to the driver as possible – partly on the driver’s seat and partly on the smaller square. Next to them squeeze two more passengers, sitting on the narrow ledge with their knees sticking out of the auto on either side. These are the truly precariously perched, for if they lose their grip, they will fall out of the auto.
Anyway, to get back to my story, I had to take my place by the driver’s side. Thankfully, this too was not a greedy man, and I did not have an additional passenger attached to my left side. We made decent time till we reached Peddamma Temple, where we were stuck for about twenty minutes. It looked like the whole of Hyderabad, their uncles, and all their relatives from Nalgonda and other districts had decided to pay a visit to Peddamma on their two wheelers. This resulted in a crush of human and vehicular traffic that had to be experienced to be believed. After we made our way through the crowd (the driver actually reached out beyond me an pushed guy out of the way at one point!), the going was smooth, and we were dropped off at Kothaguda junction. This ride (7 kilometers, according to Google Maps) too cost me 8 rupees.
The last leg of my journey was a much shorter ride – from Kothaguda to Hafeezpet. Again, I got the VIP seat – middle of the back seat. But this time I was able to witness auto sharing in all its glory – three in the back seat, and a full complement of four passengers and the driver in front! The ride was the shortest for me (3.4 kilometers, according to Google Maps), and cost me the princely sum of 5 rupees.
I travelled 14.5 kilometers in relative comfort, and the only delay was because of the traffic jam. At each place, I was able to get a share auto without waiting for more than three minutes. The total cost for me was 21 rupees. The alternatives available to me were:
a.) A bus – This would have been more economical, but only if I had waited for a long time at one of the bus stops, and caught a regular bus (as opposed to the air conditioned hitech buses). Travel-time-wise, it would have taken me longer – just getting past Peddamma temple would have taken ages.
b.) The MMTS – This would have been really economical and time-saving – a ticket would cost 4 rupees, and there is no traffic hassle. However, I’d have had to wait for the hourly service, and then contend with the crowds on the train.
c.) A hired auto – This would have been the most expensive and most comfortable way back. The meter would have come to around 120 rupees (I could be way off here – I’m guessing wildly!), and the time taken would have been pretty much the same.
I am a big fan of share auto travel, and use it whenever I get an opportunity. It is a naturally evolved version of the auto transport paradigm, and it suits the needs of both auto drivers as well as passengers.
The drivers have the flexibility of travelling to whichever destination they want to – the first guy turned back at Jubilee Hills Check Post to go back to Panjagutta, while the second one started on a fresh run to Gachibowli from Kothaguda junction. This also gives them incentive to operate on a share basis – even if they don’t end up making as much money in a single trip as they would from a metered run, they spend way less time standing idle waiting for that one big fare.
For passengers, it has almost all the convenience of a hired auto at about a tenth of the cost. True, you will have to share your auto with six others, and endure close proximity to them. But that is true of all forms of public transport – crowded buses and trains are no exception to the close proximity rule, and they come with added annoyances like pickpockets and gropers.
Share autos play an important part in filling a huge gap in the public transit system. It would be great if they can be legalized and made more organized and comfortable.
How have your experiences been with share autos? Share your experiences with us in the comments!