The picture above shows what is known in India as a rickshaw or cyclerickshaw. They truly are the hallmark mode of transportation on the Indian Sub-continent. The prescription for foreigners looking for a rickshaw ride in India is well rehearsed by now: the Lonely Planet India travel guide and the Moon Living Abroad in India both recommend negotiating fares before hopping on for your exhilarating journey. The rationale behind this recommendation is the risk the puller might ask for some outrageous amount once you arrive at your final destination. Some day four months ago, however, I felt dashing. I decided not to pre-negotiate my fare and to see what would happen … only to end up upholding that policy ever since! When I tell this to my friends here in Delhi, “are you completely crazy?” is usually the answer I get.
Not quite. I’ve simply realized I get a better deal when I wait after the journey to handle money matters. When I negotiate the prices before going, I generally end up overpaying – even after bargaining adamantly. I see no problem in paying a little extra since I am a foreigner and have the disposable income to do so, but I am not a huge fan of getting ridiculously ripped off and taken for a tool. Here’s the alternative strategy I’ve devised for myself:
Just like myself, North Delhi rickshaw wallahs don’t appear to be very keen on negotiating rates before going. After I tell them my destination, 99% of the time they invite me to hop on with a silent head nod. You bet I oblige! Only in very rare cases do they quote an amount if don’t ask them to do so. By now, I have figured out how much I should pay for a rickshaw ride in India’s capital. I prepare that amount plus a little extra – pulling a rickshaw is extremely hard work, especially when it’s 40 degrees outside. Once I get off, I do not initiate negotiations; I simply hand out what I have determined is a reasonable fare. If I don’t have exact change with me, I ask them for the change I need and then hand over my note(s). I ask for change prior to giving my bill because it’s not uncommon for rickshaw pullers to attempt to keep part of you change once you’ve paid them. What happens after I’ve handed the cash over…?
Well… nothing! Truth be said, the vast majority of the time what I get is kind a thank you in the form of a head wobble or a low-key “okay, sir”. The Delhi rickshaw wallahs I have dealt with (outside Pahar Ganj) have proven to be overwhelmingly honest and reasonable.
Often I get asked by my friends “but Jonny, what I do if they want more?” I tell them “Nope!” Straight up. If they argue, I go with something like “Normal price 15 rupees. I give 20 rupees. Acchaa hai!” and pull off a bit of Hindi. That usually settles it since there’s relatively little they can do once I’ve reached my final destination, after all.
In the rare instances they refuse to take the money hoping I’ll increase my offer, I put what I intended to give them on the bench and walk away. That’s the piece of information that horrifies my friends and causes them to ask: “what if he gets aggressive and beats you up?” Obviously, if I feel I’m about to get punched, I’ll relinquish the few rupees the guy’s begging for. So far, however, that has never happened. I believe that’s partly because they know I’m giving them more than a fair price. There’s also the fact that most destinations I use a rickshaw to get to have watchmen who know me posted at the entrance (e.g. my college at Delhi University, my hostel, etc.) – and that it’s clear to everyone they’ll side with me and not a rickshaw wallah who’s blatantly trying to rip me off.
I must admit being cognisant of the above power relationship is somewhat awkward, and has made me question whether I exploit racial privilege or not. I’ve come to the conclusion this is not the case. I never, ever try to rip off the rickshaw wallahs whom I get rides from. In fact, as a rule of thumb, I give them 25% more than a local would give them for the same ride. I ensure I don’t abuse them, and in return it makes sense I ensure they don’t abuse me either. Interestingly, I’ve also developed very pleasant relationships with the rickshaw wallahs who hang out by my hostel. They appear overjoyed when I walk out of my home, perhaps because I’ve made an effort to learn their names and talk to them as equals. I make sure I never yell at them, which I observe many locals do. When I see them play games amongst each other, I often join them for a couple of minutes before heading where I’m off to.
On the whole, I feel I’ve struck a good balance between being friendly, respectful and firm enough not to get cheated. For the benefit of all, lengthy negotiations are avoided and we all get a satisfying deal!
How do you settle prices for rickshaw rides? Have you used this strategy before? How did it go?
A word of caution if you’re going to go the daring way… First, make sure you truly know how much you should be paying for your ride in the city you find yourself in… and overshoot – don’t ever give less than you should. Second, I’d avoid doing this in highly touristic areas such as Pahar Ganj in Delhi where successfully cheating foreigners is not the oddity, but the norm. Third, make sure it won’t be just you and the puller at your destination. Also, take it as a trial and be willing to pay more than a normal fare on that occasion should your attempt be unsuccessful. Finally, I it might be worth mentioning that I refrain from using this strategy with Delhi auto-wallahs who strike me as somewhat rougher than cyclerickshaw wallahs (and won’t let you hop on without negotiating a rate anyways).