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Friday, April 11, 2014

Chennai autos and meter .... 'SMS Auto' ... !!

In the Ajit starrer ‘Attahasam’ – Karunas  is an auto-driver – Ajit & Co would pull the vehicle from backside, as the vehicle could not move –  help would be sought – first Ajit would adjust the mirror and allow the vehicle to move ~ next Ajit, would stop a way-side auto – adjust its mirror, then vehicle would move – confused Karuna would mumble on the logic  !! ….. in the super hit ‘Basha’ – Manikkam (Rajinikanth) is a humble auto driver who helps the needy. He also keeps away from unnecessary fights and quarrels. His ambition is to bring up his brother and sisters with flying colours ~ he has a past ….that was ‘Basha – Manik basha’.

A trip to Chennai would never be complete without an encounter with them……… the ubiquitous three-wheelers painted yellow and called ‘auto-rickshaws’.  In the city so well connected by road, rail, sea and air.  - a drive  in this [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.  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.

For sometime, Chennai breathed easy …. City autos indeed had meter, strict measures by Police ensured its implementation as those plying without meters were fined …….all were too good to last, and perhaps we are now back to the days of old….it is becoming increasingly difficult to find an autowalah who would charge according to meter, though the fare now for first 1.8 kilometres is Rs. 25 and for every additional kilometre is Rs.12. In this brief honeymoon, delighted Chennaites found how much they had actually been paying extra, when they had to go important places like Egmore or Central …. There was the Supreme Court directive coupled with State Govt initiative, still things are not in place !

A couple of months earlier, there was another ‘Namma Auto’ which promised deals without bargaining and charges only by meter.  It was started with fanfare of providing comprehensive and dedicated service to the customers. They claimed that Namma Auto drivers would be courteous and professional to commuters and that it would provide reliable and sustainable public transport with affordable fixed auto fares. The aim was noble but could not be sustained, as we do not see much of them on roads now !

Now comes another initiative ‘SMS auto’ ……. If one were to fancy a customized auto ride with pick-up at doorstep, this is to be one.  SMS Auto, has been  relaunched on Thursday with 1,150 autorickshaws after sputtering to a halt when it started with 100 vehicles last October, received as many as 825 bookings on the first day, the company’s managing partner K Navaneethan said.

The facility claims that customers can book autorickshaw by just sending an SMS to 9944733111, with the postal code of his location and destination. It is claimed that the company’s systems take about a minute to generate an automated reply, with mobile numbers of five auto drivers in the vicinity of the customer. The customer calls the drivers and gives them directions to his location. SMS Auto’s promoters are confident they will make the system work.

Last year some such initiatives sprung up - a few like Book My Call Auto and Namma Auto failed to take-off, ventures like SMS Auto and Makkal Auto have claimed to have  improvised along the way. Auto Raja, another venture, though bogged down with high demand, is slowly making changes. There appears to be so many ventures – but yet, they all could add up to a small % of autos that ply in the city.  Whether they could act as catalyst to change or get swamped by the polluted system remains to be seen.

~ as they life thrives on hopes

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

11th Apr 2014.

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