For a city that does not remember the days when autorickshaw meters were in use, the Supreme Court directive to the State government to fix rates in four weeks seems to have thrown open a whole lot of possibilities. Commuters such as A. S. Motilal, a senior citizen from Mogappair, are looking forward to a more economical way of travelling.
“The government must fix different slabs that are linked to the fluctuating petrol prices so that autorickshaw drivers will not rig the meters to show higher rates. Many middle class families depend on autorickshaws. Senior citizens like me cannot run after buses. The conductors don’t wait for us to get on board,” he said.
Some young commuters such as Srividya of Thirumangalam though have become far more comfortable with call taxis. “Calling a cab is far better than haggling with an autorickshaw driver. There is also the question of safety. Call taxis are a lot more convenient as I can text the car number and the mobile number of the driver to my husband,” she said.
Bound to financiers
In the city, autorickshaw meters have rarely been used. Until the 1990s, most vehicles were owned by policemen or politicians.
“Later on, the permits were held by private financiers, who had total control over the functioning of autorickshaws. Even now, though permits were recently issued by the State government, many owners are forced to go to pawn brokers as banks require surety before giving loans,” explained a former Transport Department official.
A. Jothi, a driver at the Dr. Ambedkar stand in Royapuram said he still owed Rs. 30,000 to his financier. “The bank did not give me a loan and so, I went to the financier, who gave me the money the very next day. The government must ensure that interest on our loans is also taken into account while fixing meter rates,” he said.
S. Kumaresan, an autorickshaw driver from Mylapore, said share autorickshaws also took away a considerable portion of their earnings and the government must ensure that these vehicles are brought under some kind of control.
S. Appanu, South Madras district secretary of CITU autorickshaw and taxi driver’s union, said that the organisation had been in the forefront of demanding Rs. 30 as minimum charge and Rs. 15 for every additional kilometre.
“We have formed the Mohammed Amin Autorickshaw Industrial Cooperative society for providing loans to autorickshaw drivers. Once it is fully operational, drivers will not have to pay substantial rates of interest to private money lenders. The new tariff can provide sufficient income to pay their loans and meet their household needs too,” he said.
The autorickshaw unions have also asked the government to fix meters with GPS facility.
The movement of vehicles can be monitored. This way, drivers will not tamper with meters and the passenger will also have a sense of security,” said Mr. Appanu.