Special Correspondent

Drivers will take out procession in Coimbatore to demand meter fare

Authorities should stop issuing permits for autorickshaws, call taxis

Stand system will help in discipline

COIMBATORE: Close to 8,000 autorickshaws will be off the roads from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday (March 4) to demand the announcement of a meter fare and to protest against the rise in prices of petrol and diesel.

The situation seems to be changing from that of the public and consumer organisations alone making this demand. The drivers and their unions are doing so now for an image makeover.

“People will accuse us of avoiding meter fare if we do not make this demand. There is already an opinion that we are allowing things to drift,” says president of the Joint Action Committee of Coimbatore District Autorickshaw Unions P.K. Sukumaran.

“We hear that a committee formed by the district administration is passing on some recommendations to the Government. But, there is nothing yet to assure us that the fare will be announced soon.”

A procession will also be taken out on Tuesday to highlight various problems related to meter fare.

“First of all, the authorities should stop issuing permits for autorickshaws and call taxis. The city does not have enough parking space for all these vehicles. There is already a struggle for it,” says Mr. Sukumaran. “If the Rs.1-lakh car also comes to the market, there will be a clash for parking space. Therefore, it is not wise to issue more permits.”

The committee president alleges efforts to finish off autorickshaws. “Officials are listening to some elite sections that want only taxis in the city. This can happen in a country such as Singapore, but not in India.”

Mr. Sukumaran dubs as a fallacy the view that more autorickshaws on the roads will lead to less fleecing. “The drivers who do not get passengers for a large part of the day will only fleece those very few who hire the vehicles.”

The union leader admits that some drivers are happy to continue fleecing.

“At least 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the drivers indicate that they are comfortable with the present situation. But, 80 per cent of the drivers want a meter fare,” he says.

Mr. Sukumaran is confident that any driver can pick up passengers from any autorickshaw stand when a meter fare comes into effect. A reasonable fixed fare will ensure continuous flow of passengers.

But, he insists that the stands will have to remain for identifying drivers with the area they operate from. But, they can drop a passenger in another area and pick up another from there. At present, the lack of a fixed fare and flow of passengers forces the drivers to reject this system.

The stand system will help in discipline, Mr. Sukumaran contends. At present, many drivers are not members of any union, but continue to claim they are. “The stands will help in ensuring that the drivers do not indulge in anti-social activities.”

When asked whether the fleecing of passengers will end if the Government agrees to the unions’ demand for Rs.20 as the minimum fare, Mr. Sukumaran is optimistic that a fixed fare will end the problems of the passengers and also of the autorickshaw drivers.

“We need financial assistance from the Government to install digital meters. But, it should not insist that we use only a particular brand.”