From scooter trailer to LPG-based, autorickshaws in Bengaluru turn 70 | Bengaluru News – Times of India


BENGALURU: The ubiquitous autorickshaws of Bengaluru have turned 70. The first auto, which was rolled out on the streets of old Bangalore in December 1950, was more like an extension of a scooter fitted with a carriage. The rickety contraption has since evolved, with the models changing in terms of shape, colour, fuel usage and even passenger capacity.
It was a nippy November in 1950 when the first elected mayor of the city (after the Cantonment and Pete municipalities merged in 1949) N Keshava was in his chamber at the Corporation building. A few people met him with a proposal to introduce motorised rickshaws (autos). But the proposal ran into stiff opposition from jatka (horse cart) riders, a popular transport mode that charged a nominal fee.
In his book ‘Keshava, my autobiography’ released in the 1980s, the Gandhian and former MP recorded his negotiations with autorickshaw advocates and jatka unions. He promised to study the matter within a short period and ruled in favour of the motorised vehicles, citing convenience of the middle class. He told the then Corporation commissioner to issue licences for 10 autorickshaws that eventually went down into history as the first batch of three-wheelers in the city.
Interestingly, the mayor inaugurated the first auto in December 1950 by riding it himself. He ferried the vehicle owner and his Italian wife from the Corporation office to his residence in Balepet and treated them for lunch. The vehicle was designed in Poona (Pune) and was painted yellow and green.
Change in colour, fare meters
The first autos could accommodate only two passengers at a time. History records show the city got another 45 vehicles in 1951 and the two-passenger rule was in force till the 1980s.
“The colour of the autos gradually changed to black with a yellow stripe. Unlike today, they weren’t very popular among citizens in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and many took pride in riding the bus. There was no system of a fare meter till the early 1970s. Kannada movies portraying autorickshaws as a cult figure and population rise resulted in the vehicles gaining popularity over the years,” said Suresh Moona, senior historian and author.
In 1972, Yenkay introduced the first autorickshaw meter below the dashboard and above the brake pedal. “It used to be called a foot meter and gradually in the 1980s, the flag meter was introduced. Both had their share of controversies with claims of rigging. Flag meters remained in use for over three decades before digital meters came in a few years ago,” said C Sampath, a history enthusiast and general secretary of Adarsha Autos and Taxi Unions, Bengaluru.
Newer variants
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Till the 1990s, autos were run primarily on petrol with brief attempts at using kerosene and some even trying cooking gas. Such experiments ended in drivers being booked and jailed. In 2004, the then SM Krishna government issued 5,000 LPG permits for autos in Bengaluru on a trial basis. Today, the city is home to over 2.2 lakh autos running on petrol, diesel, LPG and even CNG. The latest addition to autos’ 70-year-old legacy is the electric version, which was added in 2020.



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Sagar Biswas

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