Arguments and threats are a way of life for most commuters across the country who depend on autorickshaws. Most of us eventually dismiss the auto driver as someone who cannot be depended upon and proceed to buy our own vehicles. Among us is 26 year old Anil Shetty, an entrepreneur who decided to do something about it. With his Peace Auto initiative, Shetty wants to make make the nasty auto driver to an amiable service provider.
The Peace Auto venture was launched on October 2, 2013, in Bangalore to dispel the bad reputation that auto drivers have garnered for themselves. Shetty considers those who man autos to be public servants with just as much responsibility to the people as a police officer, or any high ranking official.
He formed Peace Auto with the aim of providing an avenue for ostracised auto drivers to build trust and mutual respect with customers. “There are 1 lakh auto drivers in Bangalore and they too are people with families and while 20% are ‘bad’, the remaining 80% are good people who are just looking for dignity of labour and a decent life,” says Shetty.
Formed under the larger aegis of the World Peace Movement, Peace Auto functions just like any other auto minus the haggling. The difference begins with the recruitment of the auto drivers who man the 50 strong Peace auto fleet.
“We don’t accept just anyone who applies to be an auto-driver here. There is a rigorous recruitment process with complete background checks for criminal activities, and a personal interview of the driver himself to check their temperament. Only the most sincere are allowed to join Peace Auto service.” says Shetty. Peace Auto also hires auto-drivers based on references, and include customer feedback in order to give the best experience to both the customer, and the auto-driver.
In addition to managing temperament, Peace Auto also seeks to distinguish itself in terms of design. Of the fleet of 50 autos commissioned so far, 25 have the Peace Auto branded design complete with GPS enabled tracking systems and tamper proof meters to aid customer safety. The redesign of the remaining fleet is on the anvil and the company plans to provide a 100 such autos in Bangalore by March 2014.
The World Peacekeepers Movement and Peace Auto are jointly run by Shetty and his colleagues Huzaifa Khorakiwala of the Wockhardt Foundation and author Sonal Ambani. Peace Auto currently receives its funding from the Wockhardt Foundation and functions from its central stand at Koramangala.
“We are soon planning on conducting Peace Auto Awards for the best auto drivers of our fleet. That way they will know how important they are to society, and will realize the dignity in the their labour. It will be like the filmfare awards for auto drivers.” says Shetty. He plans to conduct the award function at the Lalit Ashok in Bangalore which according to him will make the auto drivers feel at par with everyone else. A few of the more well known faces who have been invited to attend the event include Chairman of Manipal Global, Mohandas Pai, and the Minister for Transport.
Shetty believes that the Peace Auto drivers are also strong enough to stave off competition and threats from the mainstream auto company. “We have gotten into many arguments from the mainstream auto community, but we are united, and we have good support at the local level. So we can overcome it.” he says.
Shetty is not the first one to start a venture to benefit the auto drivers. Bangalore was previously witness to Easy Auto (2007), a similar project started by entrepreneur Padmasree Harish.
Unlike Peace Auto, Easy Auto sought to give the customer a fair commute through the use of prepaid meters and GPS enabled systems to navigate the city. The company, however, had to shut operations in Bangalore as they found the auto drivers difficult to deal with and ran into losses.
In 2010, Easy Auto was invited by the Patna District Magistrate to set shop in the city. The company operates from booths at the JPNI airport in Patna, and is now looking to promote a women only fleet force. They are also run training centres in collaboration with trade unions to recruit women into the auto-force. The company soon also hopes to launch their own training school for free training to women.
“We find the women auto drivers to be more sincere, which is why we have started recruiting them. Even when it comes to responsiveness, they are 35% better than men, I feel.” says Padmasree Harish, co-founder at Easy Auto. The company has recruited 3 women drivers in the past 2 months. Easy Auto will also soon ply in the NCR region thanks to the tender given by the Delhi Government to create India’s first ever fleet service. Easy Auto’s fleet in Delhi will feature a GPS enabled meter with a printer, a distress call button and a 24×7 ‘auto on call’ service.
In Tamil Nadu, the Tourism Department has taken matters into its own hands. According to a report filed by the Hindu, in Puducherry more than 400 auto drivers in 25 auto stands will be given lessons on how to treat customers better. Autos will have a “tourist friendly auto” symbol with the Tourist Department logo embossed on it post the training.
Peace Auto meanwhile, has achieved international recognition and has forged a collaboration with the United Nations Information Center for India and Bhutan (UNIC) and also took part in their 12 day peace to non-violence campaign last year. The company is also working on the launch of mobile apps to help track Peace Autos throughout the city of Bangalore.