Douwe Osinga's Blog: Getting Around

Sunday, February 24, 2008

One thing that is definitely harder to do in Hyderabad than in Zurich is getting around. It is not just the difference in size (Hyderabad has more than 15 times as many people), it is also the relatively underdeveloped road system and the chaotic traffic. Getting to the other side of town with somewhat bad traffic can easily take two hours. A 15 minute walk was Zurich usually the worst case scenario.

Then there is the choice of vehicle. Walking is tough. The distances are big, the air is bad and there are usually no sidewalks and little respect for pedestrians. Similar reasons rule out bicycling. There is of course the bus, thought I’ve never tried that. Obvious advantages are that they are dirt cheap and relatively safe.

Indian traffic is a complicated game similar to rock-paper-scissors and while pedestrian beats nothing, bus beats anything except cow. Nothing beats cow. But other than that, you get out of the way when a beaten-up bus zooms in on you, either to safe your new car or safe your life. The drawbacks are that the routes are rather unclear to relative strangers and that they are packed in a way that would make a sardine feel claustrophobic.

Then there is the car-with-driver. Comfortable and fast and knows where you want to go (even if you don’t – drivers know where the good restaurants and tourist attractions are). Drawbacks are the price (if you can’t get your company to chip in) and guilt. Having dinner while your driver waits outside until you are done and he can go home and also have dinner is not always easy on the western soul (though surprising small tips seem to make the situation for both parties rather acceptable).

This leaves the default choice for many: the auto-rickshaw or auto for short (which to me is confusing as auto is short for automobile in Dutch, i.e. means car). They are cheap, fast since they can easily move around things and usually know their way. The drawback is the meter or rather their utter reluctance to use them. If the traffic is heavy, they don’t want to use them because of the heavy traffic, if the traffic is light they don’t want to use them because they won’t get a ride back, if it is after 10PM or before 6AM they don’t want to use them since it is night and from the airport or railway station there is the argument of the parking.

If you look like me they always tell you it is 150 rupees no matter where you want to go (or indeed if they haven’t understood where you want to go). Hard bargaining can actually get you a price similar or even lower than what the meter would give, but then you end up arguing in the hot sun at a rate of a few cents a minute.

Last week we arrived at the airport and due to a miscommunication our driver didn’t show. We decided to take an auto. 290, they said. Fixed price by the government, look at the sign over there. There was a sign and a booth. I am guessing 90 is what the meter would show, so we walked on. Outside they went down to 190 and stuck there. I walked threatening in the direction of the road and they broke. One offered 150 and was immediately shouted at by his colleagues when another one offered to go by the meter. This was unheard off, so we jumped in.

When we were half way, the meter broke. It was a digital one and the lights just went off. So we were back to bargaining and we ended up paying 150 anyway. I am wondering whether this was a scheme: you tell the ignorant tourist you go by the meter, you unplug the meter half way and when you arrive at the destination you tell him, well, it would have been a 150. If so, smartness was rewarded.


Sruji said...

It is difficult getting around Hyderabad, isn't it? I understand how frustrating it would be at times. I like paper, rock and scissor game of yours. The best way to get around would be having a local connection. Some of those problems would be solved next month onwards when the new airport opens. But other problems like accessing airport (roads not yet been built)would arise. The easiest way to ease out is to blame the government. Like we all do :)