But auto drivers say the city is not large enough

A fleet of around 17 autorickshaws with tamper-proof electronic meters introduced in Chennai recently has evoked a positive response from the public.

Commuters in Madurai are hoping the initiative will manifest on the streets of the Temple City.

“Introducing autorickshaws with meters in Chennai is a welcome move. Launching a similar initiative in Madurai will give the commuters some reprieve from auto drivers who charge hefty amounts”, says P. Smiline Preethi, a schoolteacher.

“We either have to rely on autos or the share autos to travel every day. We cannot afford to travel in autos daily, and the share autos are inexpensive. But commuting in the crowded share autos on bumpy roads involves risk”, she adds.

According to auto drivers, the minimum and discomfort rate in autorickshaws is Rs 30, whereas share autos charge a minimum of Rs 8.

“Introducing meters in a city like Madurai is not practical. We might not get frequent trips and the maximum distance covered would be 5 km. The income might be steady but not adequate”, says Ravi, an autorickshaw driver.

“Back in 1995, meters were made compulsory in autorickshaws in Madurai. But it did not work. The minimum charge then was Rs 10,” he recalls.

“From Race Course to Periyar Bus Stand we normally charge Rs 100. But if meters are introduced, we can charge only half that amount,” says Kumar, another autorickshaw driver.

“But introducing meters in autorickshaws will end the nuisance of share autos. The share autos affect the business of the autorickshaws and buses. The commuters prefer the share autos because they charge less. But they violate traffic rules,” he claims.

A traffic policeman says introducing meters in a city like Madurai may not be feasible.

“People rely on autorickshaws to commute only for a short distance. Meters in autorickshaws will be viable for big cities where the commuting distance is reasonable.

In Madurai we should focus more on disciplining the autorickshaws and share autos”, he told The Hindu.

Introducing bays for autorickshaws in all the bus stops and raising public awareness can be helpful to an extent, he reckons.

“Seven out of 10 share autos in Madurai do not have the batch licence, which is mandatory for carrying more than three passengers. The batch licence should be renewed every three years. Violation is rampant in places such as Kamarajar Salai and in various other school zones. No auto follows the rule of not taking more than three passengers”, the police personnel says.

The auto drivers allege that the traffic police are soft on the shareauto drivers by only fining them Rs 100, whereas auto drivers are fined Rs 500.

But a traffic cop is quick to deny the charge. “For violation of permit we can charge Rs 2500. For speeding, we charge Rs 400 and Rs 100 for signal jumping. We do not discriminate against auto drivers.”

According to Regional Transport Officer (Madurai North) N. Ravichandran, violations by autorickshaws have been controlled to a great extent. “There are nearly 9,000 autorickshaws in Madurai (including share autos). With a strict regulatory system, we have checked violations on the part of autorickshaws by 80 per cent”, he claims.

Will meters be introduced in Madurai? “The State government is weighing the options. With variations in the price of petrol, diesel and LPG cylinders, the authorities are contemplating the feasibility of introducing meters statewide,” Mr. Ravichandran says.

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