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An auto rickshaw driver smiles as he looks in his rear view mirror in New Delhi, India. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)
An auto rickshaw driver smiles as he looks in his rear view mirror in New Delhi, India. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Auto rickshaws add to the chaos of New Delhi traffic Add to ...

New Delhi's streets are chaos - a caustic mixture of honking horns, speeding cars, lumbering trucks, swerving motorcycles, smoke-belching buses and scurrying pedestrians.

Puttering through the bedlam is a fleet of green auto rickshaws, small vehicles also known as "tuk-tuks" that are part golf cart, part motorcycle.

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Rickshaws lined up on a street in Old Delhi, India.

But when you're in one, bumping your way through the chaotic city streets, it's hard not to think of them as coffins on three wheels.

Auto rickshaws are covered but have no doors. Most are powered by a two-stroke gas engines and have handlebar controls.

The driver sits in front and there's room for two passengers in the back, though it's not uncommon to see entire families crammed in for a ride.

The top speed of 40 km/h might not sound like much, but because you sit so close to the ground, it seems like you are travelling at light speed.

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Anarinder Singh has been driving auto rickshaws for 40 years. His current machine is 20 years old and looks it. The sides are rusted, there are dents and a rock would be more comfortable than the back seat.

Still, Singh tells his customer everything is safe.

"I've never had an accident," he assures.

Hosting the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi has increased pandemonium to the city's already chaotic streets. A special lane has been dedicated to Games traffic, meaning more vehicles have been squeezed into a smaller space.

New Delhi's streets are dangerous to begin with. A 2008 report said more than 2,000 people died in traffic accidents in the city of nearly 13 million. Among those were 589 pedestrians.

Driving in New Delhi is an intricate dance.

Cars compete for space with trucks and buses, and the occasional cow. Drivers optimistically try to wedge themselves into small openings. A moment's hesitation brings a blast from a horn.

Motorcycles zip around like angry ants. Women, some dressed in brightly coloured sarees, often ride side-saddle behind the pilot.

The current controversy over bicycle lanes in some Canadian cities would be lost in New Delhi. Bicycles, some piled high with goods, plod along the side of the road, seemingly oblivious to massive trucks roaring past.

On the sidewalk, Singh is humble and soft spoken. Behind the wheel of his auto rickshaw, however, he turns into a kamikaze.

He manoeuvres through traffic like a NASCAR driver, missing bumpers and front fenders by millimetres. Singh barely slows for crosswalks, sending pedestrians scattering.

While driving, Singh points out landmarks. A local park being used for a youth festival for the Games, the new metro station, a good place for a bargain on clothes.

A 15-minute ride is bumpy and noisy. Fumes from the other vehicles assault your senses.

The fare is just over a dollar. Singh initially wanted more, the passenger wanted to pay less. A compromise was reached.

There are approximately 55,000 auto rickshaw drivers in New Delhi. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit didn't make many friends among them earlier this year when she announced plans for the government to phase them out from the capital.

"They are uncomfortable and pollute the environment," she said at the time. "Also, auto rickshaw drivers are unruly and harass passengers."

That may be true, but the auto rickshaws remain on the road.

If a cab is more to your liking, there are plenty available.

The classic Ambassadors, stately vehicles from another day, still cruise the streets. Some cabs have painted ceilings and sport upholstery that looks like it came off an old couch.

And some look just plain dodgy.

A customer looked dubiously at the battered vehicle being offered to him. It was old, with a stick shift, and an engine that complained bitterly.

The driver promised safe delivery.

"You are my guest and my best friend," he said with a smile. "No problem."

He didn't mention there was no air conditioning.

With a quick glance, the driver shot into the flow of traffic, causing horns to blare. The car weaved between lanes while the driver fastened his seatbelt, then got down to the business of asking if the passenger wanted to check out any local markets where bargains could be found.

Upon arrival, the driver meekly asked what the passenger thought fair payment would be. When a figure was mentioned, a hurt expression crossed his face. After some negotiation, $2 was agreed upon.

Being a pedestrian in New Delhi is survival of the fittest.

There are few traffic lights and most drivers pay little attention to crosswalks.

Crossing the street takes the courage of a gladiator and the shifty moves of an open-field runner. Like a sprinter in the blocks, you wait for a break in traffic, then launch yourself.

One trick is to wait for a local to cross, then shadow him.

But it's a dangerous business.

A photographer covering the Games ended up with his leg bandaged following a collision with an auto rickshaw.

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