How to Haggle with Auto Rickshaw drivers: The Best Method

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#1 Jul 8th, 2009, 12:34
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  • circuitloss is offline
#1
Haggling with auto rickshaw drivers is one of the things about a trip to India that gives most Westerners headaches. We know they're trying to rip us off, but in the absence of a pre-paid scheme, how do we know what the fare should be? Something that seems like the simplest and most basic element of short-range transportation for Indians becomes an unbearable hassle for foreigners. Well, I'm no expert on Indian culture, society or history, but in my time, I think I've developed the best method for getting where you need to go at a reasonable price without much stress or worry.

The genesis of all this came when I set out to find the simple answer to a question: all the autos have meters, but the drivers refuse to use them, what's the legitimate, metered fare? (The answer may surprise you.)

Basically there are three methods to getting an auto driver to take you somewhere. Actually four if you can get them to use the meter, but that opens the possibility of getting scammed as well, by taking long, circuitous routes to your destination, and since getting an auto driver to use the meter is a miracle in itself, I won't cover that here.)

Method One: Not Haggling or Not agreeing to a set price ahead of time.

Foreigner: "How much to the central rail station?"
Auto Driver: "100 rupees"
Foreigner: "Ok!" or "How about 90?"

Or, worse yet, you don't agree to a price beforehand and now you're stuck trying to work something out after you owe him money and he's no longer competing for your business.

Don't do this.

Method Two: The Better Method.

Foreigner: "How much to the central rail station?"
Auto Driver: "100 rupees"
Foreigner: "No, 40." (Knowing that the price quoted is at least twice as high as normal.)
Auto Driver: <Bickering>
Foreigner: <Eventually agrees to around half the quote, or 50 rupees.>

This is a better method than the first of course, and it's the one that most travelers use, however, it has some major drawbacks. Chief among them is the basic psychology of this interaction. Even if the correct fare is less than 50, no auto driver will take less than half of his quoted price, they just can't bear it. Remember, this is a culture where haggling is the norm, not the exception like it is for you. Taking a fare so low off such a high quote is simply not done. Also, by asking the driver "How Much?" you are already at a disadvantage because you have alerted him that you don't know the correct fare.

Method Three: The BEST Method.

I developed this idea after I was able to figure out the normal metered rates. (I can't say I discovered this, a long-term German backpacker was able to get some rickshaw driver in Mumbai to turn the thing on, thus making a monumental discovery.) At least in one significant case, the normal, metered rate for autos is 7 rupees per kilometer. Yes, that's right. 7 rupees.

Using this simple piece of information, and putting it together with the basic psychology of the first interaction, I think I have a better method of haggling with auto drivers.

First, pull out a guidebook or map of the city you're traveling in. Now estimate the distance in kilometers to your destination. Multiply by around 10. This is your target rate. (Why 10? Because getting 7 rupees per kilometer is very hard, especially for a Westerner, and considering that most auto rides are around 2-3 km, we're talking about a tiny amount of markup. Consider it a tip.)

In this example, our foreigner is armed with information from her map and knows (roughly) what an appropriate fare should be. Let's say that it's 4 km to the central station.

Foreigner: <Approaching the first in a crowd of auto drivers> Central rail station, 40 rupees?
Auto Driver: No, 50 rupees.
(We are already at an advantage here, because we have signaled that we have an idea what the rate SHOULD be. Thus, the driver is on the defensive.)
Foreigner: No, 40 rupees.
Auto Driver: 45
Foreigner: 40 rupees!
(If it doesn't work at this point, move on to the next driver. They're very competitive for fares.)
Foreigner: <To 2nd driver> 40 Rupees to Central Station.
2nd Driver: Ok!

This has worked for me, many, many times in South India. Your experience may vary of course, and I'm no expert, but this method is better for several reasons already noted and I almost always get cheaper fares by shooting for a lower, and generally close-to-market rate right out of the gate. If you go through 4 or 5 drivers and no one will agree, you're probably aiming too low and you should consider taking whatever the lowest offer was.

The main trick is not to ask the driver what the fare is, which will inevitably be massively inflated. You should already know the fare, or as close to it as you can get with a guidebook map.
#2 Jul 8th, 2009, 13:41
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  • hermetic is offline
#2
always try to take an Auto which is moving rather than autos which are at halt and preying for customers.
Best is to go on Auto metres, some of them display the price in Rs and some in Kms. For metres displaying Kms, multiply the final number with 8 to get the nearest fare.
Also i always walk out for some distance rather than jumping at the auto stand near stations or anywhere.
Finally dont bother much when you overpay by 20/30 Rupees cause the transportation cost is much less here than other countries
(just coming back from denver where i had to shell out 100$~5000 Rs for a 40 min ride to Airport)
#3 Jul 8th, 2009, 13:48
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  • hermetic is offline
#3
Added to that you dont pay tips here to Auto drivers
sorry but i was frustrated abt the Tip culture in US
#4 Jul 8th, 2009, 14:06
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  • theicarus is offline
#4

No haggling needed in Mumbai

Fare = meter reading * 10 - 1 + tip(if you feel generous)
#5 Jul 8th, 2009, 14:44
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#5
1. Plenty of Indians complain about and have difficulty with autos - this isn't a problem that is confined to foreigners. As foreigners, we have an impression that Indians are used to haggling for everything, but from my experience living with middle class Indians, most things they buy are not subject to haggling, and they hate haggling with auto-wallahs as much as foreigners. When they are in their hometown, they have the advantage of knowing the correct fare - but when they travel, they are just like us, except that they usually travel less than foreign "travellers" and so may be less comfortable haggling. South Indians are always telling me how much they hate Delhi because the auto-drivers are so difficult (north Indians often say the same about Bangalore).

2. In my experience, most places in India, auto-wallahs use their meters, no questions asked, particularly for shorter distances in the daytime. Exceptions: Delhi, parts of Bangalore, anywhere frequented by tourists who are easily taken advantage of. Perhaps Delhi and Bangalore are particularly problematic because just about everyone in these cities is not from there.
#6 Jul 8th, 2009, 17:00
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  • nishantgandhi is offline
#6

Thumbs up

Quote:
Originally Posted by theicarus View Post Fare = meter reading * 10 - 1 + tip(if you feel generous)
Bang on calculation!

Do you have a similar formula for taxi fare?
#7 Jul 9th, 2009, 09:11
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#7
Wow - I usually use method #1. And when we get to the destination I point at the meter and say "Well it says we didn't go anywhere, so I guess I don't owe you anything." Then we start a discussion among the auto-wallahs present at the scene until a decision is made on a fair fare - which will of course be inflated because your assumption in #3 (that drivers are competitive for fares) just shows how well they have fooled you: the brotherhood will not sell out one of its own (or let a gorah get away without paying through the nose) for a few bucks. If you actually know the fare to where you're going (which I usually do), just get in to the first auto heading that way, ignore the meter and quietly hand over that amount plus 10% when you arrive - no problems.
New home for my photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/abracax/
#8 Jul 9th, 2009, 10:37
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  • Brisso is offline
#8
Quote:
Originally Posted by bosquef View Post In my experience, most places in India, auto-wallahs use their meters, no questions asked, particularly for shorter distances in the daytime. Exceptions: Delhi, parts of Bangalore, anywhere frequented by tourists who are easily taken advantage of. Perhaps Delhi and Bangalore are particularly problematic because just about everyone in these cities is not from there.
I've used dozens of autos. Only one I hailed off the street in a non-tourist part of town has turned on the meter.
#9 Jul 9th, 2009, 10:48
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  • Hal is offline
#9
I got one to turn on the meter. He promptly started driving in the wrong direction.
#10 Jul 9th, 2009, 11:33
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  • Hello Mumbai is offline
#10
Never mention destination like to Airport, train stations as I have a feeling of that make it more expensive automatic and more active cheating as they probably know you're hurry and have time to catch and no really time to going around for another driver too much.

Even hotel I usually don't mention as destination normally as they probably think you have lots of money and perfect target too starting cheating little bit.

In real situation this isn't easy every time and often I pay whatever they wan't. Hot weather, rain etc make me too lazy to fight with them I guess. Special if I have train, bus or flight to catch and have no idea how long time it will take to drive.

First when I'm home I starting to think, why didn't I do this and that? Ok, next time then, I think.

Thanks circuitloss for your post.
#11 Jul 9th, 2009, 15:19
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#11
Quote:
Originally Posted by nishantgandhi View Post Bang on calculation!

Do you have a similar formula for taxi fare?
Nope, sorry - though I'm sure someone clever with math can come up with one. It's not strictly linear but there is a definite pattern!
#12 Jul 9th, 2009, 15:44
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#12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hello Mumbai View Post Never mention destination like to Airport ...
Doesn't that make it somewhat impossible to get there?
~
Life gets aadhar every day.
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#13 Jul 9th, 2009, 16:07
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  • theicarus is offline
#13
Quote:
Originally Posted by nishantgandhi View Post Bang on calculation!

Do you have a similar formula for taxi fare?
Nope, sorry - though I'm sure someone clever with math can come up with one. It's not strictly linear but there is a definite pattern!
#14 Jul 9th, 2009, 16:47
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#14
I used the rickies in Bangalore. They all use the meter, it's just the law. They can be prosecuted for being caught doing "deals" with customers. It cost 13 rupees for the first two kilometres, no less, and 6 rupees for each km after that.
BUT, out of the town limits, it's negotiable. They usually charge the meter fare plus 50 per cent.
So, if I'm going 10kms, it's 65 rupees, plus a small tip. Say 70 or 80 rupees.
In Chennai, it's a battle, in a lot of other places it's a nightmare.

In Bangalore, you can just turn the meter on yourself if they "forget".
They get angry, but never say anything.
#15 Jul 9th, 2009, 16:56
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#15

You must be joking

Quote:
Originally Posted by palerider View Post I used the rickies in Bangalore. They all use the meter, it's just the law.
It's the law everywhere, which never stopped an Indian breaking it!

My experience with autos in Bangalore is quite different and it has to be one of the more frustrating cities when it comes to haggling with them.

To be fair to them, they seem to be the most mathematically literate of the lot! Nowhere do they demand "1.5", "2" (1.5,2 x correct fare)
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