Rural auto drivers still reeling from lockdown effect


Auto-rickshaw drivers in Ramanagara District are struggling to find passengers despite the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions

By Dese Gowda | October 22, 2020

Ramanagara: Auto drivers in Ramanagara district who mainly ferry passengers from villages to towns still haven’t recovered from the effects of lockdown. Despite Unlock 5.0 guidelines that have opened up the state, the closure of schools and colleges combined with factory workers and office goers shunning autos for private vehicles has made life difficult for auto drivers.

“We had 51 auto rickshaws before the lockdown, now we are down to 30. Many of them are working as daily labourers, painters, or farm help” said Rajanna, leader of one of the many informal auto-rickshaw drivers’ associations in Ramanagara town.

Shivu an auto driver from Bidadi said that before lockdown, students going to schools and colleges from villages made up over half the passengers in these autos. Hence schools and colleges not being open has hit them particularly hard.“They should open schools. It will increase the people coming to towns and help us a lot,” said Balu, an auto driver from Bidadi. 

Their situation is further complicated by factories employing private transport to ferry their workers to and from work. Sangavva, an employee of Willburn candle factory in the Bidadi industrial area said that she used to take autos to work before Covid-19, and after lockdown, she is picked up every day from her village by the factory’s minivan. 

The incomes of drivers have gone down steeply, while expenses are rising, “We used to earn around ₹500 per day before lockdown. During the lockdown, earning ₹100 was a struggle, now we earn around ₹150 – ₹250 on a good day,” said Thimmaiah, who owns one of the bigger Ape auto-rickshaws in Bidadi town.

“We only eat rice from society (Public Distribution System), since the children are at home, paying for their education hasn’t been a problem right now. Once schools start to ask for fees, I probably have to get a gold loan,” said Ramesh, a resident of Ramanagara, who had been driving an auto for the last 27 years.

Apurva Andurlekar, from Sincrono Solutions, a Traffic and Transportation consultancy company said that there was no straight solution for the government to do. “It’s very dangerous for people to use public transport right now. Apart from Auto drivers adapting to the situations and making their vehicles more Covid-19 friendly, nothing more can be done to help them,” he said.