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home > hints and tips > scams part 3

Scams; helping you part with your money- part 3

Vultures on wheels; rickshaw wallahs

Rickshaw and taxi drivers have an entire gamut of ways to earn extra cash that stem from both overcharging and commission.

You might arrive in the dead of night at a hotel (you may even have booked) and some guy will come up to you outside the door and claim the hotel is fully booked/closed/dirty/being raided by police, and this guy just happens to know a cheap one with rooms available nearby. Chances are if you came to the Delhi hotel by taxi, the driver has already tried this on you with a varied excuse such as "Connaught place sealed off due to terrorist attack", or the "hotel has burned down". Naturally his "cousin" owns a nearby hotel…

As a slight aside they actually were telling the truth on one occasion last year. We tried to get an auto rickshaw outside the station to the "Tourist Camp", which I hadn’t stayed at for a few years. Strangely, none of the auto drivers would take us, saying it had closed and then just driving off without offering an alternative. OK, so we tried a cycle rickshaw who also insisted blind it was closed. Yeah, yeah. We insisted on going and with a shrug he took us there. Of course it was actually closed and had been for 2 years; there was a large government sticker on the gate to prove it. The driver grinned a lot.

Many rickshaw wallahs in Delhi take it to extremes and will deal only with foreigners as they can earn better cash. These tend to be the ones that hang out around Connaught place, New Delhi station or Paharganj where tourists are higher in number. One guy we know only works nights because that’s when the flights arrive and tourists are at their most tired and vulnerable. He took us out for a fine dinner and regaled us with "tricks of the trade" tales with which he seemed not in the least embarrassed - in fact very proud of his skills. His stories filled a good 2 hours, but I will relate one of the best.

He had picked up a quality Japanese tourist who had just arrived in the Connaught place area and wanted to be taken to Paharganj, having already decided on a Hotel from the guidebook he was carrying. Our man immediately feigned fear, telling the Japanese that there were ethnic riots in Paharganj, looting, burning and total mayhem but that he knew a hotel nearby that was in a safe area. The Japanese dismissed this with a smile, having of course read about such scams in the guidebook, and insisted on going there.

Our driver wasn’t out of the game yet though, and agreed to take him. He arrived near Paharganj via a side street, pulled up and begged the Japanese to wait in the auto while he checked the street for trouble. He walked just around the corner, found the largest stone he could throw, shouted loudly and hurled it over the low building between him and his vehicle. Hearing a crash he raced back to the auto, started up and made a quick getaway with as much noise as he could, the Japanese still in back and looking shocked and scared. The stone had scored a direct hit on the windscreen, smashing it and giving his customer a real fright. The customer now quickly agreed to the hotel our driver friend recommended as safe, and parted with 100 dollars a night of which most was the drivers commission. Was it worth damaging his own rickshaw? The glass apparently cost him about a hundred rupees to replace.

Insisting on a rickshaw using its meter in Delhi has become a more dubious proposition of late. Previously, the mechanical meters never worked, were incorrectly calibrated and anyway, the driver could never be persuaded to use it. So everyone got used to fixing the price with the driver; once you got used to prices, it wasn’t so bad. Now new allegedly "tamper proof" electronic meters have been enforced by government leading to big drivers strikes in late 2002, as the drivers wanted increased mileage charges and resented having to pay the 5000rs to buy the meter.

Many drivers now though, will happily take you with the meter on for the simple reason they are a long way from tamper proof. There is a method of attaching an extra earth wire to part of the meter, and then to the clutch or indicator circuit that will allow the driver to "pulse" the meter whenever he wants, increasing mileage. The wire is small and easy to remove quickly should a cop do a spot check. In a demonstration of this fiddle for a reporter from the Hindustan Times, a driver clocked up a 45km fare without starting the engine. So now the boot is on the other foot and many drivers will start to insist on using the meter, while the passengers insist on fixing the price.

Airport taxis

All flights arriving in India seem to do so in the middle of the night, dumping tired and confused passengers onto the pavement at 4 am to become prey for the especially ruthless taxi wallahs that lie in wait. There are two ways to get to the city, by bus or by cab. If you don’t mind the wait, the Ex Airman’s Transport service bus is not a bad bet at 50 rs for central Delhi. But if you just want to get a room and have a kip, only a taxi will do. After clearing customs, and just before leaving the terminal, there are three "prepaid" taxi booths on the left, one run by the Tourist authority and one of the other two by the Delhi police. These are by far the best way to get into town. You pay a fixed price of about 200 rs and are given a slip with the end part of a registration number on it.

Head on outside the door, and find your Taxi – or at least that’s the theory. There are about a million taxis outside and someone will doubtless grab the slip and your bag and try leading you to a car. Be warned, often the guy is trying to take you to another car and extract a commission on the hotel, and many of the cars are not even licensed taxis. Take a minute and look around for the car number before parting with the slip- the taxis doing the prepaid work are usually straight opposite the final door of the airport. Before getting in, make sure you check the number first as it will save you a lot of grief later, and hang onto the slip until the journeys end – the driver wont get paid unless he has the slip, and keeping hold of it can forestall any arguments about which hotel you are going to.

The alternative is to go outside and try to get a cab yourself off the chaotic mass of flesh and metal that passes for a rank, but more closely resembles the fall of Saigon; it just ain’t worth it. They might say they will charge only 100 rs but will start turning on the weapons grade bullshit somewhere on the rather long and deserted road from the airport, first by demanding substantially more money than originally agreed, then by insisting you change your choice of hotel complete with "terrorist strike" stories. Believe me this can be fairly intimidating and unnerving, especially when you are dog tired and on your first visit to India, and when there are 2 of them in the cab and only one of you.

I’ve never flown into Bombay, but the situation there is reputedly far worse, according to a recent newspaper article.

Woody Apr 03  
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