A reader named Abhishek Rawat writes in to describe, and then solve, a puzzle he has noticed in his native India:
In India all major cities have public transport vehicles called autorickshaws. They are mounted on three wheels, operate on very low horsepower, and have a center of gravity that allows them to swivel in impossible twists around the traffic. In short, they’re the perfect transportation vehicle for people who do not have a personal transport and do not wish to take the bus.
The case I point to is the curious behavior of autorickshaw drivers in Mumbai and Delhi, or rather the difference between them.
According to law, autorickshaw drivers must only go by the meter reading that is reported after a commuter’s trip is finished. However in Delhi, there are hardly any autorickshaw drivers who go by this law, and instead they quote nefariously high prices. In Mumbai though, no matter what the time of the day or night, the drivers go by the meter.
I am from Delhi and live in Mumbai now, and I just love the Mumbai driver way that is honest and forthright. The reason that I came up with for explaining the difference is that it can not be a cultural phenomenon. Since autorickshaw drivers consist of the mix of race, class, and caste in both Delhi and Mumbai, cultural upbringing can be nullified as a reason. What can be the reason, though, is the number of people who use rickshaws in Mumbai compared to Delhi. Mumbai’s prime mode of transport is public services, of which rickshaws form a major component. So you would find Mumbai overpopulated with not only people, but also rickshaws. Delhi, though populous, is far greater in size, and alternatives always exist for rickshaws; hence their numbers pale in comparison to those in Mumbai.
I figured that since competition in Mumbai is so high, if all rickshaw drivers compete with each other to quote low prices, they all will make losses. Hence, they all follow the government mandate and quote only the meter-reading prices. However in Delhi, where there is not such huge competition, drivers actually “play the customer” with the customer and quote high prices and attract the ire of the public.
So in essence, the same pool of people in the same line of business behave differently under different economic conditions and are therefore perceived differently by the public. Is it then that economics can shape human behavior, which in turn can later shape business practices? For example, if tomorrow the metro is introduced in Mumbai, cutting hundreds of autorickshaw jobs, would the rickshaw drivers still go by the meter reading? Something to ponder about!
I like Abhishek’s theory just fine. I’d also consider at least three more possibilities:
1. Difference in enforcement of the law and associated penalties in Mumbai vs. Delhi.
2. Whether drivers are independent or belong to fleets, and if perhaps those fleets have strong relationships with enforcement agency/ies.
3. Although Abhishek discounts “culture” since “autorickshaw drivers consist of the mix of race, class, and caste in both Delhi and Mumbai,” this doesn’t mean that one city’s professional culture doesn’t differ entirely from another. Many things happen in New York — jaywalking, e.g. — that don’t happen in other U.S. cities.
But I’m sure there are many other possible explanations. For those who know, or care to guess, please illuminate us. Do recall that not all transportation in Mumbai reeks of such honesty; earlier, we learned that some train travelers who ride the trains without tickets buy insurance against the possible penalty of getting caught riding without said ticket.