Unfortunately, achieving this 100% of the time is virtually impossible, but . . . there are strategies to increase the odds of being overcharged by auto-rickshaw drivers. Of course, there are honest rickshaw-walas in Delhi who simply go by the meter as a matter of course, but they hardly seem to be in the majority. Knowing what the rate should be is obviously essential if you don’t want to be over-charged. Go here to check the current rates.
First of all, try to avoid the ones who are sitting around waiting in hopes that a customer will show up, especially at auto stands outside popular markets and tourist attractions where there are usually a few autos waiting. It’s much better to catch a passing rickshaw. All the better if it’s near where other autos are waiting. Why? The waiting auto drivers have invested their time, maybe a lot of time, waiting for their turn, and they often want to make up for it by charging a bit more. Drivers who are just passing by, on the other hand, are just taking advantage of the opportunity to earn a bit more, possibly on the way back to their own stand. They know that if they spend too much time haggling, the local guys are likely to come and give them a hard time for cutting into their business. I find that this works quite a lot of the time. Sometimes, there may be one or two passing autos who don’t want to use the meter, but it’s usually possible to get one.
Flagging down an auto while standing next to a police officer is also a really good strategy. While getting in, insist on using the meter. If he refuses, the officer will usually tell the driver to use it. I try to spot any police who are on duty and then go and stand next to them or ask them to help me get an auto. A couple of days ago I was trying to get one from the Malviya Nagar Metro station, but no one wanted to go where I was going, at any price. Frustrated, I went up to an officer who flagged someone down and told him to take me. No argument. Of course, cops who have accepted bribes from particular auto drivers might be reluctant to lean on them, but they generally will if you insist.
Sometimes, if traffic is particularly heavy or there is stiff competition for autos, I’ll offer the meter rate plus 10 or 20 rupees. That often works. For drivers who accept going by the meter with no hassle, I’ll often give them an extra 10 rupees anyway. I never feel generous with drivers who try to get two or three times the going rate. I figure they make enough that they don’t need anything extra from me.
Knowing the rate is always helpful in negotiating, of course, as does letting them know that you know. If they don’t want to use the meter and you don’t know, you might assume that they are trying for double the normal rate. There are many drivers who simply assume that foreigners should pay more than Indians and who routinely double or triple the fare accordingly. Others simply double the official rate for everyone.
You could also threaten to report a driver to the traffic police. That sometimes works as it means a hassle for them, presumably a bribe or a fine. If you write down their license number, it might make them think you are serious enough to actually do it. Reporting an errant driver can easily be done online, though it’s hardly worth the effort unless they are really way out of line.
Using these strategies, I end up surrendering to being seriously overcharged no more than maybe 20% of the time. That generally happens during rush hour or when it’s not practical to wait a few minutes in hopes that an honest rickshaw-wala will happen by. Please post your tips or experiences in the comments box.