Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Autos strike A BARGAIN

Autos strike A BARGAIN
As 90,000 autos switched off their engines, city commuters bore the brunt

Bangalore: While every Monday sees Bangalore’s worst traffic, this Monday seemed like a holiday.
The autos that whoosh past every available space and the auto drivers who curse and honk incessantly, were off the roads the entire day, leaving the city relatively calm and quiet.
All was not calm though. Many commuters woke up to the dread of finding alternative means of transport to work and college. Buses were fuller than usual, there was demand for cabs. However, the roads were relatively emptier. Over 90,000 autos stayed off the roads on Monday.
Banappa Park was the hub of meetings, though only two unions, were present. The ARDU faction, which called for the strike, was present in large numbers. The union has 18,000-member auto drivers. One of the main demands is to withdraw the order on digital meters. They say these meters are expensive to install and difficult to maintain. Transport officials cite the real reason — these meters are difficult to tamper with.
Painting the autos green is what is making most drivers go green with rage. The affordability of this and a meter runs deeper than the deepest pockets for most of them.
Says K Raju, a member of ARDU’s RT Nagar unit: “We cannot afford to keep autos in the garage for a week for painting them green. We manage to earn Rs 300-400 every day, out of which we need to pay Rs 150 to the auto owner. Up to 90% of autos are on rent. We are harassed by traffic policemen.’’
Several other drivers join in, some from the Jaya Karnataka auto drivers union. Says one: “Most of us are ready to ply anywhere, it is only a few who give the rest of us a bad name.”
Monday saw all of them, for once, support the strike, though union leaders continued to blame other unions of conniving with the government. Though a few handful of autos tried to ply in the farther areas of the city, groups of auto drivers were seen stopping them, getting the passengers out and flattening the tyres.
Quieter roads were full of autos with their drivers smoking, chatting with friends and some in garages to get their vehicles fixed.
Sure, the roads were emptier, but Monday morning posed a lot of inconvenience for commuters across the city. Many had to scramble to get into buses or hitch a ride with friends and family to reach schools, colleges and offices. Very few autos were on the roads, and even the ones that did agree to take passengers charged exorbitant rates for short distances. Shruthi B, an office-goer from Basavanagudi, takes an auto up to a distance and then boards a bus to reach M G Road. “I managed to find one auto after a long wait. The distance is very short and usually I pay only the minimum fare of Rs 14, but today I had shell out Rs 40,” she said. Several others had to run after overcrowded buses, hitch rides and walk long distances to reach their destinations.
Monday mornings and rush hour always results in BMTC buses running full. But there was a visible increase in passenger traffic in buses due to the auto strike. BMTC officials though said that the percentage of increase would be calculated only after midnight.
Even as there was a buzz that the Shatabdi Express stopped at Cantonment Station for nearly half an hour to wait for passengers who might have been delayed due to the auto strike, divisional railway manager Akhil Agrawal clarified that the stop had nothing to do with the auto strike. “The train was running on schedule. The train ahead of it cleared a bit late and the Shatabdi Express was at Cantonment for about 17-18 minutes extra. It had nothing to do with the auto strike,” he added.


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