No matter which metropolis you reside in, if your daily mode of commute is an autorickshaw, you learn to make peace with at least five rejections before one ‘autowallah’ saviour rides to your rescue to drop you off at your destination.
And often it is these rejections that force commuters like us to have a generalised opinion of all auto drivers. ‘Grumpy and inconsiderate’ as some may call them.
When Anil Shetty moved to Bengaluru to pursue engineering, more than a decade ago, from his small village in Kundapura taluk of Udupi district, he faced the same pertinent issues that plague the transport facilities in the city.
And while most of us brush these daily rejections off, he decided to get to the root of it. During his stay in the city, he happened to interact and become friends with a few auto drivers.
They spoke to him at length about their issues. The drivers with rented autos had to pay Rs 200—a major portion of their daily earnings—every day to the owner. Additionally, they neither had any formal training to deal with customers nor did they have income security. Money lenders charged high-interest rates and increasing traffic, fuel and dry run costs compounded the matter.
No dignity of labour or health insurance or medical aid. Also, illegal mafia in spare parts dealing and traffic police harassment added to their woes.
Shetty, who dropped out of college to become a social entrepreneur and later an investment banker, launched the Peace Auto Movement on Oct 2, 2013.
His aim was to bring dignity to the profession of auto drivers and change the perception of the commuters toward autodrivers.
What started with merely seven peace autos has over 1500 auto drivers today ferrying around 20,000 people daily on Bengaluru streets. This auto drivers’ association has also turned into a co-operative with over Rs 25 lakhs in its account.
Who is a Peace Auto driver?
The idea was to get all the good auto drivers together who wanted to change the perception of the community under one platform. “People manning autos have just as much responsibility as public servants like police officers or other high ranking officials,” says Shetty.
So, a peace auto driver is trained to be a professional who doesn’t refuse to take a customer to their destination, is courteous, and offers a genuine smile. He does not cheat the customer but adheres to the meter, never refuses a ride and has a proof of his identity clearly displayed inside the auto.
He follows traffic rules, returns any misplaced items left behind in the vehicle, keep his auto clean and is well-groomed in a uniform.
Speaking to The Better India, Raghu, a former auto driver whom Anil mentored, now leading the Peace Auto Driver Association says, “Every week, we have several cases where people leave behind valuables in the vehicle. But our drivers show impeccable honesty every time and ensure to track down the owner and return the items. Besides, our association has created a welfare fund for the members. Under unfortunate circumstances, if an auto driver meets with an accident, we provide financial help to repair the vehicle and also give their families monthly ration.”
Raghu also adds how, out of the 1500 peace autos plying in Bengaluru, more than 200 rickshaws have a mini-library with newspapers and magazines for the customer to read for free. All autos take feedback from the customers to maintain consistency in good services.
If you think the recruitment is easy, you are mistaken. Peace auto drivers are selected after a carefully designed procedure.
“We don’t accept anyone who applies. We run a rigorous recruitment process where we do a complete background check to ensure no criminal records exist of the auto driver. We conduct one-on-one personal interviews to check their temperament. Only the ones who want to genuinely work hard and live in a dignified manner are chosen to be Peace Auto drivers,” says Shetty.
Four years ago, Anil Shetty started a felicitation programme that he calls a ‘Filmfare for Namma Heroes’, to honour these auto drivers along with other everyday heroes.
The who’s who of Bengaluru from all fields including the Kannada film industry or Sandalwood also grace the occasion. But the highlight stays on the otherwise invisible daily heroes who occupy the rows right in the front—auto drivers, traffic cops and scavengers among others, who are honoured for their contribution.
While last year, the award ceremony was conducted in Hotel Shangri La, Shetty hopes to conduct it at Hotel Conrad this year.
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“We also celebrate Auto day, specifically for the members and give away Peace Auto Awards to the best auto drivers of our fleet. They feel motivated to give better service and understand how important their role is in public transport!” Raghu signs off.
Isn’t this initiative impressive? If replicated across metros, this could not only ease commuter woes but also help both the auto drivers and the customers live and work together in peace and harmony!
Know more about Peace Auto on their Facebook page here
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)