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Updated: May 21, 2014 18:19 IST

The return of the meter

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How much has changed?
Special Arrangement How much has changed?

Have Chennai’s autorickshaws finally been forced to toe the line? The State Government recently came out with a new rate card, wherein the commuter has to pay Rs. 25 for the first 1.8 km and Rs.12 for every extra kilometre.

While the deadline for the new calibrated meters is October 15, the last day to get the new rate cards was September 15. It’s been four days since the checks for the cards and meters began. Metroplus finds out how much has changed

Change is here

“Sathyam theatre,” I said, hailing an auto opposite Central Station. “Hundred rupees,” said the driver. “Fifty,” I said and he drove away. Within seconds, another auto slowed down to ask me “Yenga sir”?

“Sathyam theatre, evalo?” “Meter sir”

There it was! The mythical auto meter, for real. Thrilled, I hop in. “How much did that auto ask,” the driver asks curiously. “Hundred,” I say. “It won’t be that much sir. Just yesterday I took this lady and she said she would pay only Rs. 60 from Ashok Nagar to Mambalam when I told her to pay by the meter. I said, ‘Please sit, and pay by the meter.’ In the end the meter rate came only to about Rs. 38. From now on, insist on the meter, sir,” he advises.

“Isn’t the last date to fix meters only October 15,” I ask. “Those who want to make an honest living won’t wait till then. I got it installed the day after the announcement came,” he says. I ask him if I can click photos and take a couple of quick pictures on my phone.

Nearing Sathyam, he asks: “What movie?” “Not movie. Interview. I am a journalist,” I say, as the auto stops in front of the theatre. The meter reads 57.40. I give him Rs. 60.

“Please wait,” he says, digging his pocket for change. “It’s okay,” I tell him.

Neengale eppadi sollalaama? Pay only what the meter says,” he insists. He hands me two rupees and apologises that he is a rupee short. I forgot to ask him his name but I will always remember it: Change.

Sudhish Kamath

***

From across the city

I lost hope in autorickshaws long before I lost hope in my ability (or lack of it) to cook. I had to pay Rs. 40 once for a ride from the Light House to the Gandhi Statue, which is hardly a distance, and realised that taking an auto wasn’t worth the money or the time and energy spent haggling. Recently, though, after the meters were asked to be calibrated, I was curious to know how things had changed.

A friend, who regularly takes an auto from her home to work (barely 500 metres away), was asked to pay Rs.30 (Rs. 5 more than the minimum amount for 1.8 km) a couple of days back. My sister-in-law, too, slashed any hopes I had fostered. “I commute to my workplace at Teynampet from Nungambakkam everyday. The distance is around 4 km and I pay Rs.100 whereas the amount should be only Rs. 40 to Rs. 50,” she said, adding that meters in Chennai were a lost cause. A family friend, a chartered accountant, had a similar experience. He had taken an auto with a meter but was asked to pay extra over an above the fare as it was still cheaper than what he would have paid earlier.

Disheartened, I turned to Twitter, where, thankfully, I did find some success stories. Aarti Krishnakumar (@aaroo4) has been taking metered autos to work the last two days. “It has been such a breeze, and my wallet is smiling as well. I usually commute from T. Nagar to Tiruvanmiyur and it used to cost me Rs. 250, but thanks to the meter I have been paying only Rs. 120 and have managed to save a few hundreds in just three days. The auto-drivers have not haggled or hassled me. In fact, it only cost me Rs. 41 for a trip from T. Nagar to Park Sheraton and when I gave him Rs. 50, the auto driver gave me Rs.10 back and waived the Re.1 change,” she says. Amba (@MumbaiCentral) had also tweeted saying “First metered auto today, driver convinced me that it would be more expensive than my usual negotiated fare. Turned out 10 bucks cheaper.”

Anusha Parthasarathy

***

Taken for a ride

I leave my car behind in the interest of research. ‘Journey One’ is to a friend’s house, about four km away. However, the drivers at the auto stand down my road take it for granted that I’ll pay the ‘usual’ rates. “But what about the new meter law? I ask meekly. They look hurt. The oldest hobbles up to me like the star of a tragic art film. I can almost hear violins in the background as he sadly says, “Pay whatever you like.” Wracked by guilt, I get in and overpay. As usual.

With ‘Journey Two’, I’m determined to be tough. Unfortunately the odds are stacked against us. It’s 10 p.m. and we’re desperate for dinner. The restaurant we’re headed to is just 15 minutes away. But getting there looks like it’s going to be a challenge. The first two auto drivers we hail sullenly tell us to walk when we request meters. By the time the third one comes along, after a 20-minute wait on a dark road, we pay him whatever he wants: Rs. 100.

By the time I attempt ‘Journey Three’ I’ve almost given up hope. So I’m thrilled when the driver switches on his meter without being asked. Much to his amusement my friend and I excitedly take numerous pictures of it to post on Twitter. Net amount: Rs. 51. About 30 per cent less than what I normally pay for that distance. We hand him Rs. 60 and wait patiently for change. Long silence. Craning our necks to see why he’s taking so long with his wallet, we realise he’s SMSing on his phone. As for our change? What change?

Shonali Muthalaly

***

Ka-ching

Functional meters in Chennai are like mythical creatures. And when we pay according to one it feels like we are in Narnia.

Determined to pay the right amount we walk from one auto to another enquiring about their meters. A few auto drivers look disgusted at the mention of the M-word and send us away dismissively. Others say, “Meter inno readya illai100 roobai thariya? That’s definitely excessive for the distance from Ampa Mall to the Nungambakkam Tennis Stadium.

Finally we discover a driver who agrees to charge us by the rate card. He animatedly waves it like a Japanese fan in our faces as we whizz off in his auto, suffused in incense. But we aren’t complaining. And as the gauge flickers to life, we clap in glee with a sense of achievement and click numerous pictures of the prima donna…that is the meter.

The best part is when we pull out our wallets and pay him two twenty rupee notes (Rs. 40 for 3.9 km) instead of having to part with a crisp note of hundred. As for our wallet, it squeals “Ka-ching!”

Priyadarshini Paitandy

***

A Chennai first

As I flag an auto in the morning, I encounter something I haven’t for most of my adult life. A young auto driver named Mani offers to turn on the meter: no negotiations or demand. Seeing me surprised, he says, “We have to start somewhere, right?”

Throughout the journey from West Mambalam to Express Avenue, Mani speaks about how relieved he is about not having to negotiate anymore. He jokes that auto-drivers need counselling too. “It is difficult psychologically to accept fares far lower than what we would earn otherwise,” he says. Determined to follow the new regulations, Mani hopes that more people begin to use autos. There is also a strong resentment against share autos. “They are also unregulated.”

By the time I reach Express Avenue, the meter has clocked Rs. 74.50. Usually, I would have paid somewhere between Rs. 100 rupees and Rs.120. I hand him a 100 rupee note expecting to receive Rs. 20 in change. To my surprise, he returns Rs. 25.50. Again, something of a first for me in this city.

Udhav Naig

I was once stunned to see the auto driver in kerala charging me Rs.
12.50 for a distance of around 2 km and apologizing for unable to give a
change of Rs. 2.50 back!!! These Chennai auto drivers should learn a
lot in this regard!

from:  Siva
Posted on: Sep 19, 2013 at 12:30 IST

I boarded an auto near my flat to be dropped at the end of vandikkaaran saalai and paid Rs. 30. The auto didn't have a meter but the driver was polite and asked for Rs. 30, just a few weeks ago the same auto driver would have charged me Rs. 50, nothing less. It was a 2.2 km ride (Thanks to Google), so Rs. 30 is a valid amount and I wasn't complaining.
I boarded an auto near Apollo clinic, Velachery, got down near the entrance of SEZ in Medavakkam-Perumbakkam road and paid Rs. 171.
Happy to see that at least most of the auto drivers have installed the meters and those who haven't, are willing to charge as per the rate card.

from:  Joe
Posted on: Sep 19, 2013 at 11:54 IST

When you get down at Chennai from other state, the first person to irritate you is an auto driver. I had been to several cities and persons from other states literally scare to engage an auto in Chennai. Thanks to the present govt there is much awaited change. Hope the trend will prevail for ever....Gopalakrishnan

from:  Gopalakrishnan
Posted on: Sep 19, 2013 at 10:13 IST

Thank you for bringing this article. First of all, I'd like to
congratulate the government for taking such a bold step and the
auto men for extending the support to the new rules. Whilst,
there might be resistances from some auto guys it is indeed our
attitude that can make this system succeed.
Never engage an auto without turning the meter on however urgent
your travel requirement might be. Awareness is the key and advice
your friends and families to do so.

from:  Mohamed S Ibrahim
Posted on: Sep 19, 2013 at 10:12 IST

As everybody is happy to know finally the auto fares are regulated
after more than decade. Likewise there is great swindle of public
money by the public bus transport ( Metro Transport operates in
chennai) As they are not entitled to charge by just displaying
different colour boards in the business by saying Deluxe, Super Deluxe,
Express, etc., This tactics also going on more than a decade. Being
this organization is government undertaking, they are safe, and the
public can show the angry only. Not control over it. The media is also
silent over this This also to be regularised.

from:  skk
Posted on: Sep 19, 2013 at 09:47 IST

Mumbai cost of living is more than in chennai, but when comes to taxi or
auto fare we have to ashame as a chennaite. But this govt rule should
make a diff to say we are not alliens. One important thing is this meter
culture should last long still autos are there and as a general public
we has to fight for our right.

from:  somu
Posted on: Sep 19, 2013 at 06:56 IST

Those auto drivers who put an excuse saying that their meters are yet to
be calibrated, they should have got the rate cards by September 15th and
at least use them. Those autos who charge over and above the meter
charge can be complained about at 26744445 - which is the Police number
set up specially for the autos who are errant!

from:  Aditya Narayan
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 20:30 IST

Yesterday morning ( 17/9 ), around 6:00 from tambaram station to Mepz, an auto driver said he would come, if i offer 100Rs. after barganing 80 Rs. The actual cost would have been around 40 Rs only. Dint speak a word & i turn around to walk thru sub way to the other side.

By the other side, another auto driver said he would come if the amount is 50. The cost would be Rs.25 only

I'm really angry. I'm not sure, how to lodge a complaint against such .

from:  Kiruthika
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 19:53 IST
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