In their endeavour to seek refuge from crowded alternatives or look for a quicker mode of transport, commuters often become victims to a long list of behavioural problems on the part of auto-rickshaw drivers, and a lasting solution evades them. Revision of fares doles out small phases of relief, but drivers don’t take long to return to “familiar ways”.

Prominently featured in the list are their refusal to go to a particular route or destination, near death experiences passengers undergo due to over-speeding, traffic light violations, drunken driving and rash behaviour. But perhaps very few of these hurt them as much as overcharging and non-adherence to meter fares does, and it remains the pivotal problem faced by commuters.

Unlike several other cities where going by the meter is a norm, auto-rickshaw drivers in Delhi often frown upon it and demand amounts exceeding way beyond the genuine fares, complain passengers.

The problem is more for shorter distances of 2 km to 3 km where they demand twice as much with their staple argument being “khaali aana padega” (We won’t be hired on our way back).

Recounting his miseries, one such commuter, Subhashish Chatterjee, who had to go to Vasant Kunj from Jangpura a few days ago, said: “It was around midnight when I stood at Mathura Road waiting for an auto. After about half a dozen refused to ply me to Vasant Kunj, one agreed but demanded Rs.300. I insisted that even if one were to take the revised fares and the additional night charges into account, the amount was way above what the meter would show. But he plainly refused. I had to give in as it was late at night and there was no other vacant auto in sight.”

While this story may find resonance with the experience of almost every commuter in the city, two other vulnerable groups are tourists and foreign nationals residing in the Capital where the language barrier also plays a part in the drivers fleecing them.

“Some of my friends here have told me that the fare between my house and the nearest metro station is Rs.40. Prior to this I was charged between Rs.70 and Rs.80, and many drivers even pocketed the change from the Rs.100 note I usually gave them,” said Kenny, a Nigerian national living in South Delhi.   

To check such violations, the Transport Department and the Delhi Traffic Police have decided to go all out to rein in errant auto drivers. The Traffic Police have recently increased fines for many of these offences from Rs.100 to a whopping Rs.2,000 for the first instance and to Rs.5,000 for repeated violations; with even cancellation of permits on the cards. 

Also on the anvil is a zone-wise colour scheme to check cases of refusal, under which coloured strips of tentatively 10 different types will be put on autos to segregate them into five different zones. By giving a colour code in the form of a sticker indicating the zone where the driver is residing or prefers to go, the Traffic Police aims to ensure that auto drivers do not refuse to go to their designated zone.

 Cracking the whip seems to be having its impact to some extent. However, lack of familiarity with the helpline numbers among commuters remains a hurdle and often such violations go unreported.

 The Traffic Police believe that affixing “Know Your Driver” cards containing basic antecedents of the driver along with helpline numbers on the vehicle’s windscreen could also prove helpful in checking misbehaviour by drivers.  

To ensure that more commuters complain through SMS and phone, the Transport Department had also decided to remove advertisements which eclipse helpline numbers on the auto-rickshaw body.

But as this move was seen in the light of political implications, since many of the auto owners had put up advertisements in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party and slammed the Congress Government in Delhi for the same, the matter was dragged to court. The Delhi High Court has put a stay on the proposal for now.

The Transport Department’s other plans for improving monitoring such as by installing Global Positioning System devices with emergency buttons on the autos have also failed to take off.

While only 20,423 GPS machines had been installed till June 14, and over 50,000 autos are yet to be covered under the scheme, the emergency system has still not been activated three years after it was planned.

For their part, the drivers themselves continue to be in a denial mode and those who acknowledge being a part of the problem attribute it to the ever increasing inflation, which they say touches them as much as it touches the commuters they are often found wrangling with.

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