Travel like a king in a three-wheeler

Travel like a king in a three-wheeler

One can watch a movie, browse or read a newspaper during a short drive

Travel like a king in a three-wheeler

They are no limousines. But a traveller can experience comforts close to that in a few auto rickshaws and not many can resist such a luxurious ride. Some three-wheelers driven by men with a new outlook offer a host of features like air-cooler, a DVD player, tinted windshield and wifi connectivity. The need to equip them with such features is not hard to fathom. With the number of autos on the roads increasing manifold over the years, various innovative ideas to lure travellers have become necessary, especially in Chennai.

S Venkatesan, a 27-year-old-mechanic-cum-driver, is very popular with those wanting to get their three-wheelers modified. His own vehicle is a class in itself. Fully operated by a remote, the suspension system has been overhauled and exhaust muffled with a modified silencer. To give it a cooler interior, the auto rickshaw has tinted windshield. Some other cosmetic changes include modifying the shape of the mudguard. A neon bulb has been fitted under the chassis to give variegated feel during movement.   

“Painting was difficult because I changed it thrice to get the gold computer metallic colour,” Venkatesan told Deccan Herald. “I spent more than Rs 1 lakh for modifications which include Rs 30,000 for video and amplifier, Rs 20,000 for special cushion, Rs 10,000 for nickel plating and painting.”

What’s more, the auto driver does not charge  extra fare from passengers for the dream ride. The passengers could ask for any movie or a song of their choice during their journey. “I play only original CDs to my passengers. I always have a minimum
of 50 CDs, which include movies and songs from different Tamil cinemas. For those not knowing Tamil, I carry some CDs of Hindi and English songs.  I drive the auto only in the evenings and most of my customers call me to their doorsteps,” Venkatesan said. He has already modified three vehicles and more are in the pipeline as the demand has been growing for modifying three wheelers.

Interestingly, Venkatesan had installed a device in his vehicle which can be operated to open the petrol tank at the back, eliminating the need for the driver to get down. Venkatesan is flooded with inquiries to churn out more luxury auto rickshaws.

“It is painstaking job. It takes minimum three to four months to modify the vehicle,” he pointed out. He is planning to set up a big unit in  future to under­take such modification work.

Venkatesan is not alone. For IT professionals, Anna­durai’s “share auto” plying on the Sholinganallur IT-corridor is equipped with various gadgets, including free wifi, mobile charging point, 30 weekly/ monthly magazines, 12 newspapers, TV and a  tablet to access internet.

A native of Peravurani in Thanjavur District, Anna­durai (29) came to Chennai with his family years ago and now lives in Injambakkam. Annadurai earns Rs 25,000 per month of which he spends Rs 9,500 on extending facilities to the customers.

He also conducts contests for customers in which one has to answer five questions and the winner will get Rs 1,000. Similarly, he gives tokens to those using his auto everyday. The customer who collects 20 tokens is gifted with Rs 250 and 30 tokens will get Rs 500 and so on.

He says: “I give free ride on special days like Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, Women’s Day, Father’s Day, Abdul Kalam’s birthday, Independence Day, Valentine’s Day and offer 50 per cent discount on my birthday on September 15”.

Another auto driver who is making waves is Kesavan. He is from Tiruvanamalai district. He has gone a step further to attract his regular customers by offering chocolates/sweets and water for the thirsty besides an LCD and even a camera to help him while reversing the vehicle. “I thought of offering butter milk. But it needs a refrigerator, which cannot be fitted to my vehicle,” he said.

For Samson, it is one step further for he has advertisement space inside his mean machine and a website dedicated to it. He offers trips designed to attract, especially foreign travellers.

“I am from Chennai and park my auto near a five- star hotel. I ferry tourists around Chennai. In the late nineties, a Japanese woman helped me open an e-mail ID. As my knowledge about the internet improved, I was able to give my e-mail address to foreigners and that brought in more customers. “Recently, a British Airways pilot helped me to set up a website. I also host advertisements on my auto,”  Samson said.

Also with these, changing the monotonous image of the mundane vehicle with threatening looking drivers is “Namma Auto”, a company started by duo that promises customers a decent deal to go around the city. A fleet of 350 vehicles, which was launched recently with dedicated drivers, charge according to the meter attracting many commuters.

Even before Tamil Nadu government’s announcement to fix electronic meters, Namma Auto vehicles are equipped with tamper-proof electronic meters. The minimum fare for distances up to 2 km is Rs 25 and Rs 10 for every additional km thereafter, said Abdullah, who has launched Namma Auto with his childhood friend and business partner Mansoor Ali Khan. Namma Auto is offering drivers a choice of four salary schemes. Auto drivers can choose to be paid  Rs 18,000 per month with no share from the fare collected or opt for Rs 4,500 per month plus 30 per cent of the collections they manage.

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