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What will make auto meters tick?

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EVERYDAY STRUGGLE: For many commuters, arguing with autorickshaw drivers to ensure they don’t fleece is a battle. A scene near the Central Railway station in Chennai recently.
EVERYDAY STRUGGLE: For many commuters, arguing with autorickshaw drivers to ensure they don’t fleece is a battle. A scene near the Central Railway station in Chennai recently.

Vidya Venkat

As government does not solve this problem, arguments will only continue

CHENNAI: Not a single autorickshaw in the city today charges fares as per the meter. Ask the driver why it is so and the stock reply is “kattupadi aavadu” (it is not feasible).

In January 2007, after a gap of ten years, the government revised the fare for autorickshaws, fixing them at a minimum of Rs. 14 for the first two km and Rs. 6 for every additional km.

Soon after the revised fare was implemented, the Transport department conducted a drive to ensure autorickshaw drivers upgraded their meters. Between April and December in 2007, as many as 2500 cases were booked against drivers for not using the meter.

But these measures have not yielded much. Most meters are defunct and one can even spot some autorickshaws without meters in the city.

Due to the steady surge in fuel prices and the rise in the cost of living, drivers have resorted to an arbitrary increase in fares. Since the last fare revision, petrol prices have gone up by Rs. 8 a litre and diesel by Rs. 4 a litre. Today, most autorickshaw drivers charge a minimum fare of Rs. 20 and about Rs. 10 for every additional km.

And as is their wont they resort to fleecing passengers at every available opportunity. For several Chennaiites, arguing with autorickshaw drivers has become an everyday affair.

Veni Swaminathan, a BPO employee, said auto drivers charged Rs. 90- Rs.100 for dropping her at Spencers Plaza from her house at Santhome, though the distance is only about 7 km. Earlier, she used to pay Rs. 70. “When drivers see people dressed well, they presume them to be rich and ask for more,” she said.

Rude behaviour

For returning from Spencers to Santhome, drivers demand Rs. 120, she said. “Try complaining about how high it is and you will get rude replies and hostile stares,” she said.

Worse is the plight of people who depend on autorickshaws for everything. Eighty-year-old S. Komalam, who lives off her husband’s pension, said a familiar driver whom she called home for visiting the bank and the doctor was charging her very high rates. A to-and-fro trip to the bank in Velachery from Pallikaranai cost Rs. 160 though the total distance is only 12 km. A similar trip to T.Nagar and back home costs her Rs. 270 for a total distance of 24 km.

People living in suburbs not very well connected by other transportation facilities have a hard time as well. A. Raghavan, a resident of Nanganallur, said there were no bus services or share-autorickshaws connecting the locality with GST Road which is hardly 3 km away.

“The autorickshaw drivers exploit this situation and demand a minimum of Rs. 60 for the distance,” he said.

Such tales of exploitation abound in the city. And the only way to fix the problem is to ensure a revision in fare prices such that it is agreeable to both the passenger and the driver.

This fare should then be strictly implemented by the transport authorities.

MS Rajendran, president of the CITU Auto Taxi Driver’s Union, said the government would have to step in to set things right.

Autorickshaw drivers got used to ignoring the meter because the government did not care to revise prices for a long time. “If the government forms a committee to revise fares regularly and consults all the stakeholders then drivers will also abide by the meter,” he said.

Consultation paper

He referred to a 2005 consultation paper prepared by P. Mahalingam, a research scholar from the School of Management, Anna University, in which a scientific method of fixing fares for autorickshaws was proposed. The paper was an attempt to address the “fare structure which did not satisfy drivers, owners and passengers”.

“The report can guide the government in fixing fares in such a way that it helps drivers survive and is easy on passenger’s pockets too,” Mr.Rajendran said. Though the transport department welcomed the suggestions contained in this paper, they did not adopt it in 2007.

Joint Transport Commissioner D. Narayanamoorthy said the question of fare revision is to be answered by the government only. For now, the introduction of pre-paid auto system in public places such as Central Station had brought about some transparency in fares, he said.

Meanwhile, traffic police have initiated a drive against autorickshaw drivers who overcharge.

A traffic policeman, who answers calls regularly on the helpline number, said he regularly received calls from passengers harassed by overcharging autorickshaw drivers.

As long as the government does not step in to solve this problem, the arguments would only continue.

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