The implementation of the meter system for autorickshaws has been a blow to the pre-paid services at Chennai Central Station and Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT) in Koyambedu.
Over the last few days, barely 10 per cent of registered auto drivers have showed up at these stands, causing passengers immense difficulties.
“Auto drivers registered at the prepaid stands go by a fixed rate, but they are free to pick up passengers on their way back to the stand here. However, many of us are being stopped by the police, who ask us where our meter is. After over 130 of us were fined recently, many of us stopped coming here and prefer to stay at home, or drive in our own areas,” said a senior member of the Central Station Prepaid Auto Drivers and Commuters Welfare Association.
The association has over 370 registered autos, but this week, fewer than 60 drivers have reported for work.
Passengers at Central say there are no prepaid autos after 6 p.m. The stand at Central had been closed for two months due to nearby Metro Rail work, and re-opened only on September 12, three days before the deadline for meters.
“There are very few vehicles now and it is a big problem for single travellers with only a few bags. Cabs charge at least Rs. 90 more,” said Prem Kumar who works in Tiruchi and comes to Chennai on weekends.
The drivers say that despite having valid documents, they have been fined because their meters are not ready. “Because of the shortage of electronic meters, most of us who went to get our meters calibrated have been asked to come back after a month,” said Uma Maheswari, who has already been fined once.
“Many of us come only between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. to avoid checking and operate for the rest of the day only in our areas,” said Dasan, a driver from Ambattur.
He said that working at the pre-paid stand at the station was quite profitable as there was always a steady stream of passengers and there was no bargaining involved. “We charge extra for diversions and we make more than we would on the meter, but passengers still trust us because all the autos are registered,” he said.
CMBT, Koyembedu where there are nearly 200 registered prepaid autos, has been facing the same problem. “We requested officials to spare prepaid autos from fines but they are not doing so. On some days, there are just about 20 autos here, and many drivers are not even willing to take a savaari because they don’t want to be caught while coming back,” said a driver.
Members of auto associations said they expected these stands to be fully functional in about two months as soon as the drivers get their meters ready.
“The transport department needs to know that the demand for prepaid autos is very high and by not letting us ply, it is passengers and tourists who are being inconvenienced,” said an auto driver at Central Station.