Tourism managers might have tried to impart them soft skills and even toyed with the idea of teaching them a smattering of the basic French, to facilitate polite interactions with international tourists, but the Transport Department seems to have realised that a stronger hand is needed in order to spruce up the image of the city’s autorickshaw drivers.
Transport Commissioner S.D. Sundaresan has come out all guns blazing against autorickshaw drivers who charge in excess of fixed meter fares.
Warning of stringent action against erring auto drivers, the Transport Commissioner said that the Department would cancel permit of autos and licence of drivers if they are found charging beyond the fixed price by the State government from Monday.
Mr. Sundaresan also sought cooperation of all stakeholders for the proposed action which would be initiated with the assistance of the Transport Police in the interest of public welfare.
Last December, the government issued an order fixing tariff rate for autorickshaw ride following several auto drivers associations’ representations and public demand. As per the government order, for day service (5 a.m. to 10 p.m.), auto-drivers could charge a minimum pf Rs. 25 from commuter for the first 1.8 km and Rs. 15 for each additional km while the detention charge was fixed as Rs. 20 for every 30 minutes.
It also allowed auto-drivers to collect an additional charge of 50 per cent of the above rate during night hours (10 p.m. to 5 a.m.).
A grace period of 60 days was allowed for the autorickshaws to get the meters recalibrated in terms of the above rates. The department also directed them to display new tariff structure which should be visible to public.
“But the government has received complaints from general public and users that several auto drivers were indiscriminately charging exorbitant rates. Disregarding the tariff stipulated in the G.O. issued last December, the fleecing of commuters by charging above the prescribed rate is highly condemnable and illegal” said Mr. Sundaresan.
Reacting to the warning issued by the government, A. Sethu Selvam, general secretary of AICTU Auto Drivers Association said: “We are ready to extend cooperation with government in regulating auto fares but we are not okay with fares fixed in last December 2013. Since then the petrol price has been increased several times. Premium of insurance and cost of fitness certificate also went up further. Under the situation, it is not sufficient for us to charge the tariff fixed by government.”
He added that when the Transport Department convened a meeting of associations of auto-drivers, they had demanded that there should be Rs. 30 minimum charge for the first 1.5 km while the other rates of Rs .20 for additional kme and Rs. 30 for waiting charges.
T.V. Sreekumar of Kamaraj Nagar, a commuter, said: “The tourism sector is said to be top priority for the government. A tourist arriving in Puducherry first faces the autorickshaw driver. Any good reputation built up by the administration is shattered almost immediately. Fleecing and the unruly behaviour of auto rickshaw drivers tarnish the image of the place. There have been many discussions about regulating and disciplining autorickshaw drivers but nothing concrete comes of it. Tourists and the public are at the mercy of these drivers and this way tourism itself will be affected.”