The Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT) in Koyambedu saw a steady flow of commuters this weekend. It was also a busy season for prepaid autorickshaw drivers who made deals with fellow drivers to transport hapless customers at the rates fixed by them. Given the rush, the prepaid autorickshaw fare counter should have been crowded but on Sunday afternoon, it was deserted.
Even the few who purchased the tokens at the counter did not actually benefit from the prepaid autorickshaws. For instance, the token purchased by a passenger, who wanted to travel to Virugambakkam said, the rate was Rs. 57 for 6 kms. However, when she went to the prepaid autorickshaw driver, he asked for Rs.77.
When she tried asking him why he was charging an additional Rs.20, he directed her to the share cabs nearby saying, “If you don't want to pay more, find other passengers going to the same area and go by a share cab.” Every day, 470 autorickshaws are operated from the terminus under the prepaid segment. Another 40 auto rickshaws enter the terminus to drop passengers. Sources say daily about 300 tokens are issued at the prepaid fare counter. P. Manikandan who travels often, has similar bitter experiences at both Central and Egmore railway stations. “This problem is not just here [CMBT]. I always take a prepaid autorickshaw. Invariably, they ask for more than what is specified in the token,” he says.
For a passenger there are few forums to register their complaints. The token issued at the prepaid counter has eight columns. While the receipt number, date, time, destination, distance in km and fare are printed, the vehicle number, a mandatory field is blank. The vehicle number is the only way to trace it in case of trouble or baggage loss.
On the reverse side of the token, telephone numbers of the RTO North West and the Joint Transport Commissioner are listed for the benefit of customers. But on Sunday evening there was no response from any of the numbers.
Since the autorickshaw drivers demand higher fares they do not get enough trips either, it appears. According to H. Balaji, who belongs to the Labour Progressive Front Union of autorickshaw drivers, on some days the income is Rs.500 but on other days they may earn nothing. On days when business is dull they double up as porters charging Rs.20 for transporting luggage from the bus to the auto stand, he said.
Another driver said, “The rates were decided in 2008 and they have not benefited us. We have to drive through bad roads and sometimes passengers quote one place at the fare counter but they want us to drop them at another point. And we cannot complain to anyone.”
“For a short distance we have to pay more for petrol and may not find a passenger for return trip. Every trip takes two hours so how can we make both ends meet?” Mr. Balaji asked. When contacted, M. Ravi, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) said the prepaid autorickshaw facility was not run by traffic police but was a tie up between Chennai Corporation and the respective bus terminus or railway station. However, action will be taken on any complaint of excess fare. “If passengers have a compliant they could contact 103 or send a message to the Commissioner of Police at 98409-83832 along with their address. They could also contact the local police or the traffic police for any harassment and we will take action,” Mr. Ravi said.