Soon, people in the city will get to travel in autos that have meters fitted with GPS and a panic button that passengers can press to alert officials about erring auto drivers. But this enforcement system may only be viable if there is tremendous logistical investment from the government, as recent experience in Delhi shows.

At the beginning of this year, the transport department in New Delhi had mandated that autos be fitted with panic buttons and GPS, but many users there say the panic buttons never worked. “It becomes difficult to constantly monitor 50,000 autos. With so much mapping and location information sent every minute from all of them, the maintenance costs are huge. So most times, the GPS would be off,” said a transport official.

The panic button is to ensure the safety of commuters – a passenger just needs to press it when she senses danger from stalkers or the driver himself. The GPS installed in the vehicle will immediately send details about the location and vehicle to the control room, which will send alerts to the police and transport officials.

The experience of Namma Auto, a city-based initiative that runs autos on metered charges and has panic buttons and GPS facilities, may help.

“Considering we need at least 10 people to monitor the movement of 100 autos, for 70,000 autos, we will need a full-fledged control room with at least 400 trained professionals and secured servers that have dynamic content,” says M. Pramod, an IIT-Madras professor. “What happens if the driver switches off the panic button? There should be a way for the passengers to complain,” he says.

The transport department and police will need to decide who will take the initiative to reach the spot when they get the panic signal. “This has to be done quickly, otherwise it will be a huge failure,” said Prof. Pramod.

The system should also address complaints of passengers regarding exorbitant charges, said Smitha Sadasivan, assistant coordinator of disability legislation unit, Vidya Sagar, who feels persons with disabilities are fleeced by auto drivers and often even denied services.

According to sources here, tenders will soon be announced for meters embedded with the GPS kit that will have the GPRS facility, panic buttons and automated billing. The approximate cost of each meter will be Rs. 10,000. Auto drivers have been asked to re-calibrate their meters with the new fares before October 15.

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