Today some volunteers went to the movies after a day of volunteering at a few different projects. They went to the movies by auto-rickshaw, and I wanted to give some information to travelers to India regarding bargaining with the rickshaw drivers (or rickshaw wallahs, as we say in Hindi). Typically, local people will call for a rickshaw wallah on the road, and will tell him where to go. Usually, any negotiations about the price for the ride are not done, and once the passenger exits the rickshaw, she or he hands a reasonable amount of money (according to the passenger) over to the rickshaw wallah. If the rickshaw wallah is unsatisfied with his earning, he will tell the passenger, but rarely he will complain, or if so, he will rarely receive extra earnings, as most passengers give appropriate amounts of money. If the rickshaw is empty when the passenger gets on the rickshaw, the price of the rickshaw ride could rise significantly; otherwise, if a person tries to find a rickshaw with other passengers, the person should be lucky if the rickshaw is heading in her or his direction; otherwise, the person must find a new rickshaw heading in her or his destination's direction.
These rules, of course, for foreigners do not generally apply. After being in India for about a month or so, foreigners can learn the tricks of the trade and manage to perform the rickshaw transaction correctly, but very rarely this will happen! We always suggest that foreigners agree on a price with the rickshaw wallah before getting on the rickshaw: As such, the rickshaw wallah cannot argue with you, because the price had been agreed upon (although, you must be specific, because they usually try to make extra money!). Sometimes, the rickshaw wallah will argue "That was the price per person, not for the total ride," or some other condition, so please be careful! If you are confident that you are correct in giving him a fair wage, based on your earlier agreement before riding the rickshaw, then you can give him your payment and walk away: He will know that you are correct if you have been honest the whole time. Much of the process actually deals with your confidence: If you are confident in giving him the correct amount of money, he will respect your honesty and confidence. We have hosted a few volunteers who have gone on rickshaw rides without agreeing upon a price before getting on the rickshaw, but usually they stay with us for a few months and have a grasp on the prices of the rides depending on the distance of the ride. Of course, the rickshaw wallahs will accept the money from the foreigner, but don't be surprised if, after giving him an amount, he argues, because you had not set a price before entering the rickshaw. Sometimes the rickshaw wallahs will follow the volunteers a bit, but eventually they give up, if they have been given a fair wage. We do suggest, though, that you stick to asking prices before entering the rickshaw!
Nowadays, we have a few rickshaw wallahs that we know personally. We have their cell phone numbers, and house numbers, so that we can arrange for them to pick up volunteers ahead of time, and they are pretty good about arriving on time and accepting a fair wage for their work. As the rickshaw comes directly to the volunteer's host family, the cost is a little higher, but there is no need to give directions back home, and no need to wait outside trying to find a rickshaw going in your direction at a fair cost. Ever since we have had our own personal ricksha wallah contact numbers, back this past December, volunteers have had a really easy time traveling around Delhi NCR.