Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Meter-tampering adds to auto commuters’ woes

Meter-tampering adds to auto commuters’ woes
Deccan Herald

A bivouac trundling along? That’s how Nick, a German national who visits Bangalore City often, describes our famous autorickshaws!

Nick may be in love with the ubiquitous autorickshaws of the City. But Bangaloreans beg to differ, as they know that they will be literally shortchanged at the end of every ride in the trundling three-wheeler.

At the end of the journey, you might crib or even pick up a fight. But autorickshaw drivers are an unrelenting lot and they have hard evidence — ‘the metre reading’ — on their side. You have no other go, but to cough up what he demands.

The recent hike of the minimum fare from Rs 10 to Rs 12 per km, only adds to the harassed commuters’ woes. In fact, the government’s notification making it mandatory to upgrade autorickshaw meters to new tariff rates gives them a chance to further tamper with the meters.

Deccan Herald spoke to auto drivers, mechanics, RTO officials and policemen to get to the root of the tampering business.

Two kinds of meters are currently in use in City autorickshaws — mechanical and electronic (digital). Mechanical meters are upgraded by around 58 local authorised auto-taxi unit repairers and the electronic meters are by manufacturers themselves. All these service centres operate under license from the Department of Legal Metrology.

When tariff changes

When tariff changes, it is boom time for tampering the meters. In mechanical meters, upgrading means (calibrating) changing three parts: two wheels — one with 24 teeth and the other with 15 teeth, a washer and a pin. In electronic meters, the company programmes the meter and updates it according to the new tariff.

The upgraded meters are then taken for passing (sealing) by the Department of Legal Metrology which has counters at Regional Transport Offices.

Story of the wheel

It is the wheel that matters the most, while tampering. Ayub, a seasoned meter mechanic in Shivajinagar, says the wheels (teeth) in the meter is proof of the driver’s honesty. Every tooth removed means a jump of at least 10 paise for a rupee. Many a time drivers request us to change the meter wheels, Ayub confides.

According to him, very few tamper with the wheels in the meter. Majority of the drivers demand changes in the big wheel that comes inside the adaptor or Gatta, beneath the engine. This particular wheel will have 35 teeth and requests pour in to reduce at least four teeth which means a jump of 40 paise for every rupee.

Ayub says in electronic meters, the easiest method is to connect the earthing wire to any indicator or lights. Whenever the driver switches it on, the meter jumps. Tampered circuit boards too are easily available in the open market.

But RTO officials have a slightly different take on the issue. They agree that there is a racket in tampering of meters. But mostly autorickshaws that run during night have tampered meters, they claim.

Upgraded meters

Passengers should take note of this before hiring an autorickshaw. An upgraded auto meter will have two seals (06 engraved on it) on the left hand top and the bottom right corner. These will be facing the driver and not the passenger. In the digital meter, there will be a wire connecting from the bottom left to right and a seal reading 06 on it.

Subbu, an autorickshaw driver, is bang on, when he says it is a question of survival --- Groupism, bribing constables at railway stations, bus stations and at times, even at pre-paid auto stands. How else do we generate money, he asks.


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