Passengers at airport taken for a ride

Tambaram 14 May 2012
For City 
Photo Caption : Prepaid  Car booking  counter at Chennai airport 
Photo By : A.Muralitharan	
Story By : Asha Sridhar

Tambaram 14 May 2012 For City Photo Caption : Prepaid Car booking counter at Chennai airport Photo By : A.Muralitharan Story By : Asha Sridhar

A family of four who were standing outside the arrival gate of the domestic terminal, Chennai Airport, with a trolley full of luggage, looked harried. Travelling for the first time by flight, this family from Kolkata wanted to get to T. Nagar without burning a hole in their pocket. While one taxi operator asked for a flat rate of Rs. 500, another said he would charge them Rs. 100 less than the fare demanded by the first operator. The family finally settled for the operator who offered them a ride for Rs. 330. With each operator charging different rates, some with booking counters inside the terminals and no comprehensive system in place, it is harder than it seems for a traveller to get a fair deal.

The airport has three taxi services functioning from its premises — Chennai Airport Prepaid Taxi Owners-Drivers Association, Fast Track Pvt. Ltd and Aviation Express. Getting to Adyar from the airport will cost you Rs. 600 by Aviation Express; Rs. 450 by Fast Track and Rs.300 or Rs.400 by the black and yellow taxis operated by the Association, depending on whether one chooses an A/C or a non-A/C car.

Rates are fixed depending on the area, not on the distance. While a ride from Adyar to the airport by Fast Track, for instance, would cost you around Rs. 260 on the meter, a ride from the airport back to Adyar by the same operator will cost you around Rs. 450, which is a flat rate given at the booking counter.

In response to a query on the names of companies/ organisations which have been granted approval by the Airports Authority of India to offer pre-paid taxi services from the airport, in an RTI application filed by A.S. Sukumar dated February 3, 2012, the Airports Authority of India (AAI), specifies that “Chennai Airport Pre Paid Taxi Owners-Drivers Association is operating pre-paid taxi system at Chennai Airport.” In Annexure-1 of the reply, it describes Aviation Express as a city coach service, and Fast Track Pvt. Ltd. as a car rental service and not pre-paid services.

So the next question is who fixes these rates? The rates of both Aviation Express and Fast Track, the most exorbitant, are approved of by the AAI according to an official. While the taxis operated by the Chennai Airport Pre-paid Taxi Owners- Drivers Association are largely operated by individual drivers who pay the AAI Rs. 30 per trip and no additional sum for parking, according to the official, both the private operators pay a hefty royalty every month, and also pay for the allocated parking space. Hence, the rates are justified, he said.

G. Mariadurairaj, Secretary, Chennai Airport Pre-paid Taxi Owners- Drivers Association, said that they operate based on government-specified rates. The taxis run by the Association, the airport official claimed, are managed by the association itself.

“Originally it was agreed that the traffic police would regulate the counters, the Regional Transport Office would fix the rates and we would provide the space. But this has been not been happening. We have written to the State Transport Authorities in this regard,” added the official.

In this muddled setting, it is the passengers who bear the brunt. R. Vasudevan, a frequent traveller said, “The taxis are not only expensive when compared to most other metros, but also, since there is no uniform rate, each taxi operator asks for a different charge. I have to go around asking rates of all the operators before I pick the most economical option. Otherwise, how do I ensure I am not being overcharged?” he asked.

And rates, he added, should be fixed with distance as a parameter and not locality.

Lokpria V, a student, said she would rather travel light and take a train from the Tirusulam station opposite the airport, instead of going from one counter to another to find the best deal.

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