Consumers battling price rise bound to have second thoughts before hiring vehicles, writes R.Krishnamoorthy

Not surprisingly, taxi operators in the city have been quick to revise the fares after the Central government announced an increase in the cost of diesel by Rs.5, much to the discomfiture of the common man.

Fares of diesel cars have risen by 50 paisa to one rupee per kilometre.

Taxi operators say the increase is inevitable. When the cost of diesel rose from Rs.40 to Rs.44 a few years back, the fares were raised correspondingly from Rs.6 per kilometre to Rs.6.50 per kilometre. The same principle had to be applied now, according to Mohamed Afsal, proprietor, Tiruchi Call Taxi and Travels.

For multi-utility vehicles operated as taxis, the fare has been raised by Re.1 per kilometre. “It is inevitable as the mileage is lesser for bigger vehicles,” Mr.Afsal reasoned out. For air-conditioned vehicles, the per kilometre charge is higher by Rs.1.50 to Rs.2.00. Mostly, the option of non A/C and A/C exists only for the smaller vehicles.

Fares charged by most of the other taxi operators are almost the same. Since the majority of vehicles in the fleet are operated on contract basis, the taxi operators have little choice when it comes to raising the fares.

“When the input cost increases, we cannot compromise on the returns we have been delivering for the vehicle owners,” reasoned out Naraynan, Manager, Ganesh Travels.

There are, however, a few operators who are yet to tweak their rates. For instance, a spokesperson of Fast Track Call Cab said information was awaited from the corporate office before effecting a change. But then, it is only a matter of time before they restructure their fares correspondingly.

Unlike in the case of taxis, the diesel price hike has apparently not affected the auto operators so much, since as much as 70 per cent of the autos are fuelled by petrol or LPG.

For the rest, however, the writing on the wall is clear. They will have to strike a hard bargain with the customers.

The impact cannot be generalised as the auto fares are so haphazard in the city, admits A.K. Dravidamani, president, City Auto Operators Association, affiliated to All India Trade Union Congress. He accepts that despite enjoying the advantage of better fuel economy, the auto fares are as much as taxi charges now, but blames the situation on whimsical charging by inexperienced youth who hire autos on a daily basis.

The hire charges in the city range from Rs.100 to Rs.125 for petrol autos and Rs.150 to Rs.175 for the diesel vehicle. They do not realise that even by charging nominal fares, returns can be achieved on the principle of economy of scale, Mr.Dravidamani explained. An auto driver A.Nehru agrees that it is possible to earn sufficient income as the city’s population is rising phenomenally, much more higher in proportion to the growth of the public transport system.

Nevertheless, customers who take the burden of the snowballing impact of diesel price hike in the form of price rise of essential commodities are bound to have second thoughts over hiring taxis or autos.

Since waiting charges and driver ‘bata’ also get revised usually whenever the cost of diesel goes up, hiring taxis will cause unwanted strain on the monthly budget. Even poor people cannot escape the impact as the bus fares are also set to witness a rise.

Condemning the diesel price hike, the Consumer Protection Council, Tamil Nadu, urged the Central government to withdraw the increase completely, to protect the common man from the economic burden.

The claims of under recoveries by oil companies are a ruse to make profit, S.Pushpavanam, its secretary, said, demanding that the Chaturvedi Committee report to study under recoveries be published to reveal the reality.