Commuters in Chennai grapple with a new problem: finding cabs and autos

After Metro Rail phase II work started, detours and traffic diversions have become the norm in many areas of the city. Autorickshaw and cab drivers cancel trips because they don’t want to take circuitous routes to reach customers, who also complain of excess fare

Updated - May 08, 2024 01:02 pm IST

Published - May 07, 2024 10:27 pm IST

Commuters residing in areas where Chennai Metro Rail’s construction work is underway say they face hardship and have difficulty accessing autos or cabs. A scene at Mylapore on May 7, 2024

Commuters residing in areas where Chennai Metro Rail’s construction work is underway say they face hardship and have difficulty accessing autos or cabs. A scene at Mylapore on May 7, 2024 | Photo Credit: B. Velankanni Raj

As detours and traffic diversions have become the norm in many areas of the city, because of Chennai Metro Rail’s phase II work, commuters have been grappling with a new issue — difficulty in getting cabs and autorickshaws.

Chennai Metro Rail Limited has been building a 116-km network in the city for the past couple of years at a cost of ₹61,843 crore. The construction of three corridors (Madhavaram to SIPCOT, Light House to Poonamallee, and Madhavaram to Sholinganallur) began in phases in different parts of the city. The project work has been on in full swing at almost all locations. As a result, commuters have been spending more time on roads because of traffic congestion and diversions. Now, they also worry about getting a cab or an autorickshaw, especially at peak hours.

In areas like T. Nagar, Mylapore, Purasawalkam, Ayanavaram, or Nungambakkam, commuters struggle to find an autorickshaw or a cab to pick them up from their homes or drop them back.

Hoping for better commute

G. Balakrishnan, 74, of Mylapore often travels to Nungambakkam or Villivakkam. He says it is an arduous task to find an autorickshaw to return home. “Some of the autorickshaw drivers instantly refuse when I say the drop location is Mylapore. They dread coming here because of the diversions. We don’t have a choice and have to put up with it. We fervently hope that the authorities will finish the work soon and commuting will become better with Chennai Metro Rail,” he says.

Commuters who depend on cabs and autorickshaws say they spend more time circling the areas before they can get out of the maze of diversions and also shell out more than 30%-40% for commute daily. “The minute you say that you can’t pay the [extra] money, the driver cancels the trip. Online aggregators always charge a fee when a customer cancels the trip. This should apply to the drivers, too. The drivers inform the customers that they will pick them up and after 10-15 minutes, they cancel the trip,” says Ramakrishnan, a resident of T. Nagar. Every time a customer complains on the app, only an auto-generated message is received, and it is difficult to reach the customer care, nor does the customer care call back to check on the complaint, he laments.

Ganga Sridhar, a resident of R.A. Puram, says that be it peak or non-peak hours, autorickshaw and cab drivers either cancel the trip owing to diversions or charge twice the amount. “Earlier, I would pay ₹40 to reach Mylapore; now, I pay almost ₹80.”

Plea to remove encroachments

Sridhar Venkatraman, a resident of Abhiramapuram, argues that some of the issues could be resolved if the traffic police remove the encroachments on the streets and arterial roads and deploy additional personnel to regulate the traffic.

While some of the commuters think this mass rapid transit system may ease travel in future, they are also concerned that the traffic chaos will continue for at least 3-4 years. Around a dozen autorickshaw drivers The Hindu spoke to said the maps on the app do not show the diversions and in many cases, they travel one kilometre more to pick up the passengers and that’s why they demand higher fare.

Surge charge

A Rapido spokesperson said, “Our pricing model underwent a revision in early 2023, and since then, we have maintained consistency in our pricing structure. Currently, the minimum charge stands at ₹30 per ride. However, due to factors such as extreme heat and the ongoing Metro Rail construction, certain areas may experience a shortage of drivers. In response, an additional 10%-15% surge charge is applied to incentivise drivers and ensure service availability.”

Many drivers say Rapido has asked them to take extra money. In response, the spokesperson said, “We want to clarify that Rapido does not endorse or encourage any unethical behaviour. We have an indigenous tool on our platform to monitor all payments requested by captains from customers. This tool promptly alerts us in the event of any additional charges being demanded by captains, enabling us to take immediate action as necessary. We take all feedback seriously, including complaints from customers regarding fare discrepancies. Any instances of misconduct by our drivers are condemned, and action is taken based on our investigation.”

Touch points

A spokesperson from Uber said, “Trip fares are reviewed and updated periodically as per the fare regulations. We have created multiple touch points for riders to connect. They can speak directly to a trained support agent on the 24X7 Safety Line; they can share feedback through the ‘Help’ section and post-trip feedback along with a trip rating. We have also created a special help-node, part of the post-trip feedback, where riders can disclose extra charge, if any, for a trip. Feedback against a driver on overcharging may lead to action, including the possibility of the driver losing access to the platform.”

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