Barely a week after its launch, only three autorickshaws are plying as drivers have quit

The introduction of seven auto rickshaws, all fitted with electronic fare meters, by the city based Consumer Protection Council-Tamil Nadu last week has brought much joy to Tiruchiites. The programme has proved a big hit with these autorickshaws always on demand round-the-clock.

Despite the overwhelming public support, the project is facing the initial hiccups, thanks to the stiff opposition from a majority of the auto drivers. Of the seven autorickshaws pressed into service last week, only three are on the road now, as the drivers of the other four vehicles have left their jobs.

The project brought relief to the commuters who were fed up with dealing with unscrupulous autorickshaw drivers. The meter charge has been reasonable, compared to the exorbitant fare that the other autorickshaw drivers charge.

The autorickshaws were charging Rs. 350 for covering the distance from Chinnakadai Veedhi to airport. But the meter fitted autos collect only Rs. 120.

The fare in the meter fitted autos is only Rs. 20 from Chinnakadai Veedhi to Thillainagar, compared to Rs. 70 collected by the other autos and Rs. 55 for reaching Senthaneerpuram from Pattabiraman Road, says a private concern employee.

The project has evoked overwhelming response with the master phone centre receiving innumerable calls even in the late evening hours.

The running of the meter fitted autos has evoked stiff opposition from other auto drivers. “The meter fitted autos are attacked and sign boards “metered autos” damaged.

The drivers are threatened and intimidated. This is the main reason for the quitting of four autorickshaw drivers within a short period of introduction of this project”, laments S. Pushpavanam, secretary of the Consumer Protection Council-Tamil Nadu, who was the moving force behind this programme.

“We are undeterred and are on the look out for new honest, efficient, committed auto drivers with driving licence satisfying all the conditions of the transport department. Once, we get adequate drivers, the project will be strengthened”, Prof. Pushpavanam said.

A cross section of the people say that meter fitted autos are the need of the hours.

In every small and big towns and cities in the neighbouring states of Kerala and Karnataka, the auto fare has been cheap and reasonable, thanks to the collection of meter fare.

Despite various consumer and other organisations raising a hue and cry, the running of meter fitted autos still remains a distant dream, they lament

Operating of meter fitted autos will prove beneficial to the drivers. At present, they are facing severe competition from share autos and in particular the call taxis.

The autorickshaws will continue to lose passengers to call taxis if a high fare is fixed. If the autorickshaw drivers continue to fleece the innocent people, they will keep hiring only call taxis as these vehicles can accommodate more passengers and luggage, says P. Senthilvel, a consumer activist.

The move has won appreciation from various quarters and the local people appreciate it as a ‘bold move’. “The district administration on its part should initiate steps at least now to streamline the autorickshaws in the city,” says P. K. Raman of Ayyappa nagar.

In the first phase, the pre-paid auto system should be introduced from important points. This system is working in Chennai Central. In Karnataka, pre-paid system is available in bus stands too. In Mysore, pre-paid system is functioning in the bus stand also.

If pre-paid system is introduced, the passengers will not be at the mercy of the greedy autorickshaw drivers, Mr. Raman adds.

The autorickshaw drivers always justify the collection of high fare and rejection of meter fitted autos on the theory “small city requiring bigger fare”.

How is a lesser fare then accepted in smaller cities in Kerala and Karnataka or elsewhere, questions S. Raman, a trader who frequents Kerala and Karnataka.

The introduction of the metered auto system has been welcomed in the neighbouring districts too.

J. Eden Alexander of Thanjavur urged other consumers to take a cue from the Consumer Protection Council-Tamil Nadu and attempt for similar facility in other districts too.

The Consumer Protection Council-Tamil Nadu has taken up the issue of the presence of a large number of unauthorised autorickshaw and taxi stands in the city limits. New autorickshaw stands come up without getting permission from the authorities and this caused nuisance to the public. The council has complained to the District Collector in this regard, says Prof. Pushpavanam.

Only 25 autorickshaw and taxi stands are “permitted” ones in the city and the Council has sought the list of the permitted stands from the authorities. After obtaining the list, it will seek steps to remove the stands functioning without permission, he adds.