Pedal pushers no more?
With the spurt in the number of autos, a growing MTC fleet and more self-driven vehicles, rickshaws are becoming an increasingly rare sight on the city roads these days.
CYCLE-RICKSHAWS HAVE found a place in the list of endangered or rather extinct species. Automation and motorisation have taken over the world, and Chennai is no exception. There was a time when cycle rickshaws were one of the most popular and preferred, alternative modes of transport, anywhere in the city, because of the low charges. Whenever you put you hand out, there used to be a rickshaw to take you trundling along to your destination. But nowadays, it is either an auto, call taxi or a bus but never a rickshaw. They have simply disappeared from the city roads.
Says Muthu, a rickshawallah, "I used to be the proud leader of my union here in Mambalam. But today I am worth nothing and my rickshaw is but a worthless bauble. Even if we hadn't been making big money, there definitely were a few rupees at the end of the day. We could make ends meet. Not anymore! For, we are completely washed out.
The transition, from cycle-rickshaws to whatever that is being used nowadays, has been sudden and overwhelming, leaving the rickshaw owners high and dry. Everything has changed around them without a clue, and that has really left them rattled sans work, sans income.
It all happened before we could even realise it, says a woeful Murugan, another rickshawallah. While some have been wise enough to have savings to fall back on, or to find other jobs, most of this hapless lot have been rendered penniless and starving.
Usually catering for the lower and lower-middle classes of society, they were the cheapest mode of transport for short-distance trips. Rickshawallahs could make a neat income not only by ferrying passengers to different parts of the city but also by taking children to and from school everyday. There even was a time when the city witnessed a stream of brightly painted cycle-rickshaws participating in political rallies, campaigns and processions. If it was a man sporting a thick moustache, clad in a shabby lungi and arguing at the top of his voice for an extra rupee, it definitely was a rickshawallah. Today his presence is felt nowhere in Chennai.
The reason why these under-privileged chauffeurs have faded away into oblivion is not just one. A number of factors come into consideration. The advent of autos, the concept of call-taxis, private travel services have literally edged these contraptions off the road. Surprisingly, more people seem to prefer travelling by autos because though they are costlier, they are faster and more convenient. And, of late, the concept of share-autos has also caught on in a big way. For those who are perhaps unaware, the share-auto is an eight or ten-seater vehicle that transports people between two fixed destinations with the fare being shared equally by all. This makes it very cheap. For just Rs. 5 or Rs.8 one can travel from Adyar to Saidapet and in quick time too.
"Obviously no one would want my services when I charge the same fare for covering a few streets," laments Arasu, a dejected rickshawallah. Moreover, with the Government introducing more and more buses each day, there is no reason for people to turn to rickshaws. There were quite a few localities left untouched by the MTC and rickshaws ruled the roads once. But today, there is hardly any place in Chennai that cannot be reached by an MTC bus and this has put the rickshawallahs out of business. And then there are those people who have come to believe that travelling by rickshaw is no longer fashionable.
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