Thirty seven-year-old P. Andal is not too happy with the auto fares fixed by the government.
A single mother, Andal earns about Rs. 700 a day and is the only source of income for her family, comprising her aged parents and her teenaged daughter.
“Fuel prices increase every now and then. Of the Rs. 700 I earn each day, at least Rs. 200 is used for petrol expenses. Competition from call taxis and traffic problems have made our lives difficult. I renew my milk card only every alternate month because living expenses have shot up badly,” she said.
Andal said the minimum fare should have been fixed at Rs. 30, at least. “For a distance of 10 km, I will end up getting just Rs. 120, much of which will be spent on fuel. If I do not get a return trip, there will be hardly anything to take home,” she said.
Andal, who lives in Kotturpuram, began working after she was abandoned by her alcoholic husband. “Earlier, I would wake up at 3 a.m. and clean vans till 10 a.m., earning just about Rs. 50 a day. After my husband died, I thought of starting something independently,” she said.
With help from relatives, Andal bought an auto. Today, she has paid off her debts, but life has not been easy, she said.
“I am worried about my daughter’s future. She can go to college if some well-wishers come forward to support her. She studies well. I wanted to put her in a good school, but many institutions refused to admit her as they feared I wouldn’t be able to pay the fees on time. I can’t really blame them,” she said.
Andal does not drive around after 7 p.m. as she finds it unsafe. This too, affected her daily income, she said.
Andal wonders if something good will come out of the new tariff norms. “Fixed fares, even if they are low, may translate into more movement and more customers. People might be willing to trust us. I may not have to drive past bus stops hoping one of the waiting commuters will opt for an auto instead of a bus,” she said.
On Tuesday, Andal was part of an awareness sessions conducted by the traffic police. The drivers were also given lessons in etiquette. “It is not surprising that commuters think of us as rude people. Everybody thinks we are a nuisance, and that we have built palaces from overcharging them,” she said.