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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Auto-rickshaws of Chennai metropolis ~ now they have meters too.... !!

A trip to Chennai would never be complete without an encounter with them……… the ubiquitous three-wheelers painted yellow and called ‘auto-rickshaws’.  Chennai is well connected by road, rail, sea and air.  The Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) runs an extensive city bus system and down South, you have so many buses – roads are good and travel is comfortable. 

In the metropolis, you have the State Transport Corporation, EMUs, MRTS, vans, call-taxies and more………. and then there is this ‘auto-rickshaw’  - a drive [the peculiar sitting posture of the driver, the cuts and turn-arounds of the vehicle – its capacity to turn at right angles and wade through milling crowds], the language of its drivers, the missing meters and the bargain – can all force mortal fear in you no ends.  I don’t travel much by auto …. ~ many of my friends have narrated some tale of  woe when travelling by an auto in Chennai metropolis; unfortunately most of the users carry a feeling that they were fleeced and not properly treated……after a negotiation, you could still have the driver mumbling much before entering the destination, that it is too far and that the passenger did not describe it appropriately – all for a renewed process of asking for ‘more’. 

If you are a regular reader of Tamil magazines, till few years ago ‘joke on soodu meter’ hogged the limelight. Those days, auto drivers used to turn on the meter with a twinging sound ~ there were stories of faulty meters [tampering colloquially called ‘soodu’] – which would show much higher that what they should be.. some used to say that it worked on the system of toothed pinion wheels and some abrasion would make it jump thereby increasing it manifold….. now magazines no longer carry such jokes….  Slowly such jokes vanished …. not because system became perfect but because the meters went out of way.  Before one reads any further, it must be admitted that there are some honest and good Samaritans – and the auto-rickshaw drivers are the ones who readily come to help the victims of an accident and many a times seen regulating chaotic traffic. 

Most of all that is part of past……..the meter has shaken things up. Stand auto drivers have realised allegiance of regular customers is no longer a given and that they have to make more trips to earn what they used to. With the Govt. stepping in after Court directive, the reluctance to turn on the meter is costing stand autorickshaw drivers dearly. They are losing their regular customers to drivers who abide by the tariff card.  There had been revisions – but none of them got carried out properly.  Now the fare for first 1.8 kilometres is Rs. 25 and for every additional kilometre is Rs.12: that is the new tariff unveiled by the State Government.  The revision came in the light of the Supreme Court’s direction to fix the new autorickshaw fares within four weeks, taking into account all the relevant factors.  The State Govt has also fixed the late-night charges as also the waiting charges which is  Rs.3.50 for every five minutes and Rs. 42 for an hour. Ms.J. Jayalalithaa announced that the State government would spend Rs. 80 crore to install meters fitted with GPS facility and electronic digital printers. The Chief Minister also made it clear that permits of autorickshaw drivers would be cancelled if they charge more than the revised fares.

After the notification, the Transport Dept went full steam implementing it and there were protests from the auto drivers. There were enough propaganda of its helpline / complaint line on which people can complain on non-plying, non-switching off meters.  The printed rate cards were also made available and were advertised in newspapers too. 

By some estimates, there are more than 70000 autos in the city and a small % of them are unauthorized ones.  Some with sub-urban permits were plying inside the city – all these had trouble now.  It is now stated that the transport department will soon begin its crackdown on Ape autorickshaws that operate as share autos in the city, without proper meters.

So after many a years, in the light of Supreme Court’s directive and the State Government’s initiative, now you have autos in Chennai that ply with meters charging Rs.25/- for the first 1.8 kilometres & Rs.12 for every additional kilo meter.  Without battling an eye-lid, one can now feel happy that whatever they pay is ‘what they are obliged to pay’ and not fleeced. For long, the auto-wallahs protected by Red Unions used to express that the prices of essential commodities have risen as also the rates of fuel – they could not survive ……. Now they have the Govt. fixed rates………… anyway, one could never comprehend what the auto driver gained by refusing to ply to shorter and longer destinations – but squatting idle at the stand….

With my limited experience, I have had difficulty whenever I engaged an auto from Central…… for Triplicane, the minimum I paid was Rs.100/- and it if was late in the day, they would start at Rs.150/- and would end up at Rs.120/- ….. all for a distance less than 6 km……  recently, at 8.30 pm, when we took auto to Central from Triplicane ~ in a metered vehicle….. can you imagine – the official rate…………………. it was Rs.56/-  ~ yes, only that much ~ and it for this that they had been haggling twice of the rate  and more.

So now you have autos with meters plying on Chennai roads  – with Supreme Court directive and State Govt. initiative ~ for enforcement the most essential thing is ‘only YOU’……….. next time, when you engage an auto, make sure that you tell the driver to turn on the meter and not bargain.  If he does not, you have the options…. The ones feeling social responsibility can make a complaint; the least one can do – is shun that vehicle and look for another who would ply with meter on.  As long as you walk into the autos asking for fixed rates, you are part of the corrupting the system.

It is in our hands too….. travel only in an auto with meter today, and do follow it every other time, you engage an auto.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

10th Oct 2013.

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