The buses are crowded and private vehicles are a luxury as fuel is costly. But, the alternative is costlier – autorickshaws. Already, people have been paying through their nose for many years even the shortest trip in the city. Now, the fuel price increase puts the common passengers at a great disadvantage.
A three-km trip costs Rs.40 to Rs.50 because of the fuel price increase. It has shot up by Rs.10 to Rs.15 in just two months, even as the district administration is holding talks with autorickshaw unions on fixing a meter fare.
On their part, the unions are now demanding that the minimum fare be fixed at Rs.25 because the fuel price has gone up. Their earlier demand was Rs.20, as against the Government-fixed fare of Rs.14.
Apart from buses, autorickshaws and call taxis are the other forms of public transport available for the people in the city. The city and the suburbs have 6,600 autorickshaws, according to the Regional Transport Office. Though substantial in number for a small city area, no autorickshaw can be hired at an affordable fare.
Secretary of the Coimbatore District Autorickshaw Workers’ Association argues that affordability is not the right of the only the passengers.
With rising cost of spare parts, not to mention the increase of petrol price, autorickshaw drivers need a better deal. That is why the unions are now demanding Rs.25 as the minimum meter fare.
The unions have a battle going on with call taxis as they enjoy better patronage from the public. Though the fare is not low, call taxis are preferred for their meter fare. Share autorickshaws, which help people overcome the impact of inflation in other cities, are very few in number in Coimbatore. They too are opposed by the unions, because three to four persons share the fare and take away what the normal autorickshaws can earn from one person.
E. Nagaraj, a driver who operates from a stand in Saibaba Colony, says it is difficult to make a living by driving autorickshaws. With people avoiding autorickshaws over the years, a steady income throughout the day remains a dream.
Many drivers share his view that this mode of transport has become costly only because of the unjustifiable delay in fixing a meter fare. There is no minimum rate now for the passengers to bargain with. Therefore, they are forced to accept whatever charge the driver quotes, and that too by citing the rise in the price of petrol. Old front engine autorickshaws are fuel guzzlers. And, the impact of fuel expense is passed on to the passengers.