Despite the government resuming the crackdown on autos, some drivers continue to ask beyond the meter

The government may have once again started enforcing the autorickshaw meter rule strictly in the city, but the drivers have become smarter, too.

Recently, an autorickshaw driver stopped his vehicle next to a man on Ethiraj Salai. Once the passenger got inside, the driver asked him politely to pay Rs. 70.

“Sir, I will turn on the meter. If the police enquire, please tell them I did not bargain with you,” he pleaded. On Anna Salai, the police checked the autorickshaw and, as the passenger did not complain, they let the vehicle pass.

Getting down near the Mylapore MRTS station, the passenger paid him Rs. 100 (the meter showed only around Rs. 55).

“Sir, this money will help feed my children for a day,” the driver said. A few minutes later, the passenger spotted the driver muscling his way into a TASMAC shop.

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Getting into an autorickshaw alone in the hustle-bustle of the evening, heading to work, you look forward to silence. But a check by transport department officials, while breaking your journey, might result in an interesting conversation.

“They never check the bad ones. It’s we, who always go by the meter, who get the rough end of the stick,” rued the driver who had switched on the meter at the beginning of the journey.

The GPS-enabled meter scheme for the city autos, announced by the State to be carried out at government cost, was supposed to materialise in February. “It would really help if they were put in place,” said the driver, as he dropped this reporter off, wishing that someone would see that the government makes good on the “assurance” with another writ petition.

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Sometimes, an otherwise tedious autorickshaw ride in the city can get amusing. Not always do you find an autorickshaw fitted with large speakers, a portable DVD player and a comfortable seat.

Quizzed about the interiors, the driver said it helped attract customers amid growing competition. He has taken several long-distance trips, even up to Vellore, because of the facilities that he considers plush for an autorickshaw. Sometimes, he even secured a better bargain on fares, he said.

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On a hot summer morning, a minister sitting right under a fan at a function in an air-conditioned hall started shivering. His aide was summoned to switch off the fan and there was a sudden commotion to find the switch. Staff of the institution scrambled to find a solution.

“If we switch off the fan, the light goes off too,” exclaimed a staff member. The aide ran back to the minister and conveyed the message.

The minister’s answering smile was enough indication to the aide to have the fan switched off immediately. Off went the fan, and the light along with it, dimming the dais. The minister finally settled back into a comfortable position.

(Reporting by Vivek Narayanan, Athirupa Manichandar, K. Lakshmi and Evelyn Ratnakumar)

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