Saturday, January 12, 2008

Buses make up for absence of autos

Buses make up for absence of autos
TIMES NEWS NETWORK

Bangalore: It was a pleasant ride on the city roads on Friday, sans autorickshaws, about 75,000 of which were on strike. The roads not only looked broader, but there was less noise and air pollution as well. People were tempted to embark on long walks on less crowded streets. BMTC invited appreciation from commuters as it strengthened its fleet to cater to the rush.
That was the positive side of the autorickshaw strike. The downside was that the autos on the road resorted to demanding unduly high fares. Outstation passengers who arrived in the city from buses and trains were caught unawares.
Bowing to a strike call given by the CITU-backed autorickshaw drivers’ union, almost 80% of the city’s auto drivers stayed off the roads from Friday morning to evening to avoid law and order problems. The strike, called for higher fares, effectively hit the entire city.
The first casualties of the strike were passengers at railway stations, city bus stand and airport, and office-goers within the city. Most people reached home and office by bus, taxi and their own vehicle, but it was not easy. People had to walk long distances to reach bus stops and from bus stops to their homes and offices. By and large people took buses to travel through the day.
Rajesh, an insurance employee who took a bus to office, said the buses were not as crowded as expected. “Luckily I travel via Majestic where you do get a lot of buses. It was okay.”
For Jeffrey, a British tourist, who set out exploring Bangalore, a BMTC bus was the only option. “I knew of the strike. I had to take two buses to reach M G Road from Yelahanka. It cost just one-tenth of what an auto would have charged. The bus service seems to be good.”
BMTC deployed 300 extra buses from major bus stands including Majestic, Market, Shivajinagar, Banashankari and Vijayanagar. At Majestic, buses even made a special detour to run on the railway station road to help passengers.
While buses were generally available, it wasn’t easy to get taxis as they were over-booked. According to taxi operators, some people who had booked taxis were willing to wait. Since the vehicles were limited, it was not a easy task for taxi call centres to manage the calls.
Overcharging autos
Many auto drivers took advantage of the strike and difficulty in getting taxis to make a quick buck. They wouldn’t come for anything less than Rs 100 per km!
“An auto driver asked me for Rs 500 from JP Nagar to MG Road which is normally Rs 60. I was willing to pay Rs 100. But the driver stuck to Rs 400. I refused. Drivers asked me for Rs 100 from Richmond Road to MG Road — just for a km. After much bargaining, the driver settled for Rs 30,” said Anuja R, a professional.
What unions say
The CITU Union was not unhappy about the strike. Sreenivas Murthy of the Union said: “We were sure the strike would be total. Except for a few drivers, most stayed off the roads. The authorities said our demands for fare hike and house allotment through BDA would be discussed either on January 14 or 17.”
The Autorickshaw Drivers’ Unions Federation (AUDF) didn’t quite like the strike call but couldn’t do much about it. Federation member M Manjunath said: “We have to admit that the strike was near total. But that’s because most of our drivers didn’t want to risk getting beaten or having their autos stoned. Just because we were off the roads doesn’t mean we agree with CITU demands. We can’t have the fare too steep and not have passengers come.” The CITU Union is demanding Rs 20 as minimum and Rs 10/km, while the Federation states Rs 15 and Rs 7.50/km is reasonable to passengers and autodrivers. The extent of hike may be decided on January 17.

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