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Updated: March 6, 2013 09:08 IST

Love to hate autorickshaw drivers? Just try sitting in their seat

Deepa Kurup
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Loans are a problem and economic pressures are immense, says study

The urban transport system in Bangalore has been the focus of several studies. But here’s one that looks at this crucial leg of public transport, one that sits on the cusp of private and public transport. Yes, it’s about autorickshaws, a subject that provokes animated debates and dogged stances, depending whose side you’re on.

A recent report by the Center for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning (CISTUP), titled Study of the Autorickshaw Sector in Bangalore, looks at the ubiquitous three-wheelers. These gritty vehicles, which plug the gap between mass public transport and private transport, are mired in issues that not only have to do with regulation and law enforcement, but also with the fact that there is little in terms of government support or subsidy.

Self-employed

What sets this report apart is that while it looks at this “autorickshaw problem”, it recognises that this large contingent of self-employed workers (predominantly from lower income groups) has been left out of the welfare net.

So, while it recommends policy interventions that could give the sector a fillip by integrating them better with public transport, it also proposes increased state support, subsidies and loans to auto drivers, and more training and awareness.

Welfare schemes

Among the welfare initiatives recommended are streamlining bank procedures to make access to loans simpler, faster and devising special government-supported easy loans.

The survey notes that loans to purchase the vehicles are largely from private financiers (67 per cent), often at extortionate interest rates.

Interestingly, it also recommends “innovative finance mechanisms” such as the controversial “microfinance and group-as-guarantor schemes, seed money funds set up by social venture capitalists or the government”.

Permit system

The report’s key recommendations are scrapping of the auto/cab permit system, streamlining and computerising licensing and certification procedures to make the system transparent and eliminate middlemen, and a public complaints system, integrated across departments such as the transport department, traffic police and legal metrology.

Taking note of what it terms a “mafia-like nexus between cops and groups of drivers” at ordinary and pre-paid auto stands, it calls for more auto stands and recommends a software tweak in order to accurately calculate fares between destinations. An interesting idea is that of a phone app, or similar methods to make this system work and help increase public interface.

Specialised department

To better equip the enforcement side, it suggests that the traffic police be a specialised department, where staff can be trained specifically for the job.

The fines collected for violations, which currently go into a common pool, could be used by the same department to develop infrastructure, train staff and offer them incentives.

Organising labour

Interestingly, the survey found only 22 per cent of the drivers in the city unionised. The researchers contend that the auto unions suffer from a “bad image” and don’t enjoy the trust of drivers.

The report suggests working around this by having a better coalition of auto unions and groups, “like an umbrella organisation, a federation or trust that is formally registered and recognised, also having better access to government welfare/benefit schemes for its members.”

It is not clear, however, who can create such a platform for all the unions to come together.

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