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Auto meter fare: people’s movement needed

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K.V. Prasad

‘Citizens’ groups are not putting pressure on Government to enforce the fare it fixes’

‘Many drivers are prepared to charge lesser than Rs.20’

‘But, they find themselves too weak to take on the unions’

COIMBATORE: While intimidation of passengers, fleecing and disregard for rules are charges made against autorickshaw drivers, a section of them say that a massive people’s movement will be needed to enforce meter fare. This is a strong opinion expressed by some of the drivers while reacting to the low public turnout at the drivers-passengers interface organised by citizens’ group Kural on Friday.

Low turnout

President of the Joint Action Committee of the Coimbatore District Autorickshaw Workers’ Unions P.K. Sukumaran began his speech at the meeting saying that the low turnout suggested that the people were not interested in anything related to autorickshaws or meter fare. Some drivers who did not participate in the interface see a point in what Mr. Sukumaran said.

No guarantee

Other than letters to newspapers, citizens’ groups were not putting pressure on the Government to enforce the fare it fixes, pointed out a driver who was part of a meter fare movement in 1997.

Many drivers were prepared to charge lesser than the Rs.20, the unions now demand as minimum fare. But, they found themselves too weak to take on the unions, he said.

There was no guarantee that the unions would ensure that only Rs.20 was charged even if the Government fixed it as the minimum fare. Mr. Sukumaran’s statement at the meeting that even Rs.20 may not be viable if more people do not hire autorickshaws was seen as a veiled declaration that excess fare would be collected.

A driver who does not belong to any union pointed out that a Minister had rushed to Coimbatore to hear the grievances of 7,000 autorickshaw drivers but not that of more than 10 lakh general public. This only reflected the lack of strength in the public campaign. Besides, no elected representative seemed keen on taking up the people’s cause with regard to the fare, he alleged. It is not that meter fare is impossible in Coimbatore, only the will to have it is missing. “What is charged by the drivers now is not according to the distance, but according to their financial needs,” he said.

Citizen’s Voice Club secretary C.M. Jeyaraam argued that the public were not indifferent. With recalcitrance among the autorickshaw drivers and their unions reaching a point of no return, the public have learnt to ignore this mode of transport and buy cars or motorcycles in order to be less dependent on them.

In the present situation, the public cannot do anything more than expressing their resentment. They do not have the strength to take on the drivers who have proved that they can react violently when their actions are questioned.

Elected representatives have not helped much and this has led to the loss of hope among the people that a meter fare would come into effect here.

Mr. Jeyaraam also countered the unions’ charge that consumer bodies were against the interests of the autorickshaw drivers. “In fact, we had even teamed up with the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to ask for insurance cover for the drivers,” he said.

Joined efforts

S.C. Murugesan, a resident in the city who has joined efforts to bring about meter fare, said that most of the drivers were stubborn that they would not use the meter. That was why people opt for travel by buses despite the rush and discomfort.

“I am 70-years-old and yet I have stopped travelling by autorickshaws because of the fleecing and the behaviour of the drivers.”

“In the neighbouring Palakkad District of Kerala, autorickshaws do not have empty return trips because they are willing to charge just the bus fare on their way back after dropping off passengers. In Kozhikode city, the drivers return even small change. They stick to the fare the meter shows, however small the amount,” he said.

If such a situation has to come in Coimbatore, the nearly 120 unauthorised stands should be removed. All kinds of boards with all sorts of association names could be seen at these self-styled stands where the drivers run their fiefdom, said Mr. Murugesan.

He asked: “Why are the police, Coimbatore Corporation and the transport officials not removing the stands?”

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