In social media to private chats, people seek an end to a section of autorickshaw drivers that rip off commuters by quoting jaw-dropping rates

Entrepreneur and social activist R Raveendran felt embarrassed when a khaki-clad auto driver appeared before him and took hold of his baggage within seconds of alighting from Thiruvananthapuram-bound Sabari Express at Ernakulam North Railway Station on Monday. Raveendran, who hails from Coimbatore, was forced to tug along to an autorickshaw parked outside the station through a narrow illegal passage. The auto soon started moving to Vyttila Hub as directed by Raveendran but its fare meter remained idle. The driver told him it would not be economical to run an auto on meter charge. He was forced to pay Rs 250 for a ride up to the hub and had to put up with rudeness.

“In Tamil Nadu, auto drivers fix rates as per their whims and fancies. But I never expected such a bad treatment in Kerala as I have read many articles about responsible auto drivers of the State. Later, a friend told me about the pre-paid counter at the railway station. But I saw several other auto drivers on the platform who hoodwink passengers into hiring their autos, skipping the pre-paid counter,” he said.

One week ago, Thrissur-based documentary film maker Musthafa Desamangalam took a pre-paid auto from Vyttila Hub to Kaloor. Though he told the policeman at the counter that his destination was Judges Avenue in Kaloor, the last point was mentioned as Kaloor in the slip. The driver forced him to move out of the vehicle as soon as it reached Kaloor bus stand saying that he would require additional money to move further.

Refusal to ply, charging excess fare and vehicles without functional meters are the main complaints that commuters in the city have about autos.

Most auto drivers in the city have a free rein in deciding the fares. “It would be hard to see autos with functioning fare meters. Either they tamper with the meters or make them dysfunctional,’’ alleges K.V. Sumithra, who works with a private firm in M G Road.

And we decided to ask the authorities what they intended to do about it.

“We get a lot of complaints about rude and greedy auto drivers in Kochi. The department would intervene in a large-scale soon in Kochi and other major cities. Tough action will be initiated next week when Transport Commissioner Rishiraj Singh returns to work after leave. We will make them abide by the rules and provide better services to the public,’’ said Joint Transport Commissioner Syed Mohammed.

According to him, the main focus would be on taking stringent action against autos running in the city without permit. “Autos from outside the city and the district would not be allowed to ply within Kochi. Fare metre would be made strict,’’ he said.

“It is high time auto drivers in the city were regulated and prevented from fleecing the public. Large number of autos from outside the city and the district are occupying narrow roads of the city, creating congestion,’’ says social worker Jacob Lazer.

According to him, lack of a proper bus network in the city is being exploited by illegal auto operators. “Autos are exploiting public mainly on the Kaloor-Kadavanthra route where no other public transport is available. A circular bus service on this route will help a lot,’’ he said.

Those who have studied the sector emphasise on the need to periodically review the fares by a permanent committee. There were suggestions to have a district-level mechanism involving people’s representatives, auto workers’ unions, police, Motor Vehicles Department and NGOs to revise the tariff based on the increase in fuel prices. But nothing has taken off.

According to Motor Vehicle Inspector A.N. Noushad, the department had found that about 2,000 autos plying in the city were unauthorised and they would be prevented from operating within the city soon. “The city needs about 4,000 new autos and permits would be given only in a time-bound manner to those who live within city limits. The department will provide personality development training to genuine drivers and would help them in all possible ways to operate the vehicles in a socially responsible way,” he said. “We are planning a to change the colour of autos. The new look would help locating them easly even at nights,” he said.

V.V. Praveen of Autorickshaw Drivers Association (CITU) said the unions had no opposition to implementing a proper fare system with meters. “But the authorities must draw a clear city limits where meter charge will apply. Also there must be a permanent mechanism to revise the fares keeping in view the increase in fuel prices. But they must be initiated only by taking us into confidence,” he said.

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