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Autodrivers driven to the wall

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BAD DAYS: Lack of patronage has left autorickshaw drivers waiting endlessly for passengers. A scene in Tiruchi. —
BAD DAYS: Lack of patronage has left autorickshaw drivers waiting endlessly for passengers. A scene in Tiruchi. —

They are not getting enough trips as people prefer cheaper modes of transport

KARUR: Rising prices of automobile components, dwindling patronage, swelling number of peers and the like have made life difficult for autorickshaw drivers.

Once riled, the autorickshaw drivers of today are actually staring into the barrel with rising inflation and its cascading effect weighing them down.

Karur is a busy town with its varied business and commercial interests bestowing additional affluence to all its populace. Automen were no exception and once they were thriving.

Charges were not comparable to other towns in the region but were in the realm of cities such as Coimbatore and Tirupur. But the wheels of fortune of the automen took a turn for the worse with a slew of factors contributing to their accelerated decline.

First the rise in fuel prices gave them a shock and when they tried to up the fare, the public did not take to it kindly. Instead they started shunning autos and preferred the relatively cheaper ride in share autos or patronising public transport. Then the prices of spare parts increased rapidly and reduced the returns for the autorickshaw drivers.

“Prices of auto spare parts have been going up steadily and it seems that there is no end in sight for it. Given the steep inflation levels and the general rise in prices of all material inputs including rubber, steel and other components, prospects of holding the price line is remote,” points out a spare parts dealer in Karur.

Auto drivers are bitter that apart from the cost of spares, the workshop charges have also gone up considerably. “Labour and mechanic charges have gone up considerably in the past year as they clearly know that the spares have become dearer. They cite difficulty in finding skilled labour as one of the reasons for the rising labour charges. We have no other go but to part with whatever amount they demand, giving room for a small bargain, lest our vehicles would suffer a longer downtime that would be much more pinching,” observes autorickshaw driver Logan Susairaj of Pasupathypalayam here.

“We are not in a position to hike the fares in proportion to the rising costs,” points out another driver, Aji Kurien of Gandhigram. The fares have gone up only marginally over the past year.

That despite rise in fuel prices, spares, cost of tyres and tubes, general maintenance and all other implications of rising inflation, he adds.

“We are not getting enough trips these days for various reasons. First, people are preferring cheaper modes of transport. Second, share autos are marginalising us. Third, minibuses are omnipresent. Fourth, the autorickshaw population has outgrown the demand. Overcoming all those things, it is difficult for us to earn Rs. 200 a day and that’s the reality,” says another driver M. Arumugham.

“While the trips and the returns have dwindled, the costs we have to incur have gone up considerably. Our takehome is much less these days as the overheads eat into our returns,” automen say as one.

“Once we were seen as bad elements but several instances that showcased our good intentions helped change our profile. When the autorickshaw drivers were slowly coming up, the storm of inflation has come and upset our applecart. We only hope that the government contains the prices and provides relief to automen ever willing to help people” they add.

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