Taxi drivers

It is common to rent a car and driver.

Needless to say, it would be suicide for me to try to drive in India.  Driving on the left, negotiating the game of chicken with oncoming trucks while both sides attempt to use the other side’s lane, and navigating a confusing array of streets and potholes while scooters and bicyclists and cows interrupt your path, is just not for me. So how do I travel? read on…

This is one of the larger taxi varieties, which we hire for longer trips. Ramesh, our driver for this trip to Mysore on Dasara, arrived early to decorate the car with garlands, banana leaves, flower petals on the hood, and temporary paint on the windows.  This was a special treat1

When I travel, therefore, I am always given a car and driver.  Although they are called taxis, they operate more like a limousine service.  You call ahead to arrange the car, you don’t flag them down on the street.  In many cases, such as my visit to IIT Kharagpur, the driver was assigned to me from the moment he picked me up at the airport (on Sunday) until he dropped me back at the hotel in Kolkata (Monday night).  After checking into the IIT guest house on Sunday evening, I went for a walk a few hours later. I found him parked, just outside the gate, and he jumped up as I walked by.  Monday morning, there he was, still waiting to take me wherever I needed.  Monday lunch, he was still there, at my service.  Although, I must say, it is quite convenient to have a driver ready and waiting all the time, I always find it hard to think of him sitting out in the hot sun, waiting, waiting all day, to be ready at a moment’s notice.

On the whole, the drivers are good and the cars are ok.  In Kolkata, though, I was provided a rattle-trap car with no AC and a driver who could only speak Bengali.

The beater car that took me around Kolkata. I’ve seen better. These old “Ambassador” cars are common in Indian cities, especially among government officials.

In Lucknow, my driver passed a bicyclist so close that he clipped the bike pedal. In Kanpur, my driver slowed every so often to open the door and spit out the juice from his paan. In Bangalore once, a driver took detoured to a crafts shop for tourists; drivers usually get some sort of kickback for bringing in customers.

Cost varies; at a five-star hotel in Lucknow, a car and driver cost Rs1300 ($27) for four hours. In Kolkata, that rattle-trap car only cost me Rs620 ($13) for five hours, though I spent at least three hours of that time stuck in traffic.  In Bangalore, it’s 450 rupees for four hours and 40km.  Taxis are not metered; they figure costs based on time and mileage.

An autorickshaw (three-wheel motorcycle with a cab) is far cheaper; in Bangalore they are Rs7/km.  Just a few observations about these ‘autos’: 

  • Autos are a loud, smelly, and bumpy way to travel, but you get a much better feeling for the sights and sounds of the city.  
  • Auto drivers always try to rip me off, quoting a high fixed price rather than using the meter. It’s best to walk away.
  • Thankfully, they shut off the engine when waiting at a red light, else the air pollution would be double what it is today.
  • When you pay a driver, they often touch the folded money to their meter, then their forehead, then again the meter, then their lips.  I suppose it’s to be thankful and to bring good luck for more business.

Here’s a 30s video clip of a ride in an autorickshaw (Bangalore 2007).

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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