City residents want either pre-paid autorickshaws or metered vehicles

Will Madurai get pre-paid autorickshaw service? Will fare meters be made mandatory for autos? These are questions that linger in the minds of people who are dependent on autorickshaws in the city.

Madurai Corporation has made the headway for re-introducing the pre-paid auto services at the Mattuthavani Integrated Bus Stand. While inaugurating two separate bays for autorickshaws and taxis at the Mattuthavani bus stand on November 20, Mayor V.V. Rajan Chellappa had said that only after the State government fixed the fare, pre-paid autorickshaw service could be introduced here. The fare for different destinations in the city would be displayed in a huge digital board, he had said.

Regional Transport Officer (Madurai North) N. Ravichandran says, “We are expecting a Government Order to this effect. Once the G.O. is issued, the Collector, Commissioner of Police and Superintendent of Police will fix the fare structure in consultation with representatives of auto-drivers’ associations and consumer fora.”

However, the popular wish of the Madurai public is that fare meters must be fixed in all autorickshaws, and the authorities must ensure that only metered fare is collected from the passengers. “Many auto-drivers demand exorbitant fare. Often, their demand is at least 80 per cent more than a reasonable fare,” says K. Muthiah, executive committee member of Consortium of Consumer Justice.

No return fare

But the auto-drivers say they might not get customers on the return trip to their auto stand. According to M. Pitchaimuthu, an auto-driver, “When we go for long trips to the suburbs, we do not get customers on the return trip. So we need to collect extra money from the customer to offset the loss.”

“People who are not aware of the topography of the city often feel they are taken for a ride by the auto-drivers. “If the board displays the fare to different destinations, then there will be no argument and no suspicion,” another driver, E. Muthu, says.

However, Mr. Muthiah says pre-paid auto service system failed in the railway station in the past. “The fare fixed for different destinations will always be higher than the metered fare,” he says.

Tapping technology

Echoing his view, Hariprasad Thapliyal, a management trainer in Bengaluru, says: “Meter system is always the best option. It is working well in Mumbai and Bengaluru. If the fare per km is fixed, the passenger himself can calculate the total fare for their journey as many have the GPS systems on their mobile phones, though there could be minor differences of a few metres.”

An employee of the contractor who runs the autorickshaw reservation counter at Mattuthavani bus stand says the fare has not been fixed for now. “The reservation counter has been functioning as a facilitation centre. The driver and the customer decide on the fare. Once the fare is fixed, it will be displayed and the customers would be given a receipt bearing the registration number of the autorickshaw and the name and phone number of the driver. We will collect only Re. one as service charge,” he says.

Out of the over 500 autorickshaws operating from the bus stand, over 250 have been registered with the counter. “In case the customer loses any baggage or other valuables in the auto, we can trace the auto-driver. Even yesterday, we were able to restore a pack of medicines left by a customer,” he says.

City Engineer A. Mathuram says the printed details of driver on the receipts will ensure safety for the passengers as well as their luggage. The Corporation plans to print the phone numbers of the respective RTOs under whose jurisdiction the autorickshaw falls so that the passengers can make complaints, he added.

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