Thursday, May 31, 2007


Over 70,000 autorickshaws in Bangalore but not one around when you need it. S Nandagopal and Bansy Kalappa do a reality check on auto drivers and their business

Double kodi... Meter mele hathhu rupai jaasti aguthe, one-way jaasti (Give me double... Pay Rs 10 more than the meter as there are too many one-ways). This is common demand of an auto driver and he refuses to take you to your destination. And the response from drivers when you stop an auto is appalling. While some don’t even acknowledge you, others slow and then give you shocked looks. Often, you feel they are doing a favour rather than being paid to ferry passengers. According to rules, carrying a commuter to the desired destination is a professional obligation of an auto driver. TOI checked drivers out on three major aspects: refusal to go to desired destinations, tampering of meters and attitude.
Of the 50-odd autos we tried to stop to go from MG Road and Majestic to Banaswadi, 40 refused. Refusal to nearby destinations, which fetches the driver only the minimal fare, is very high — as many as 23 of the 25 autos we stopped at MG Road refused to take us to Shivajinagar.
Some of the responses were: doora aithu saar (It is too far); gas illa saar (no gas); mane kade hogtha iddini (I am going home); bere auto nodi (find some other auto); double aguthe (it will cost double meter); tumba onewaygalu (too many one-ways); Vaapas baadige sigalla (I will not get a return passenger). The refusal rate is more during nights, rainy conditions and peak hours.
Commuters will tell you tales of drivers refusing to ferry them even as they were dripping wet in rain, pleading helplessly. The heavier the rain, the greater the bargaining power of the driver.
Late-night travellers will tell you that after 10 pm and before 5 am they’re at their worst. Drivers refuse to ferry commuters even when they’re offered triple or quadruple fares.
Another issue is tampered meters. From Chikkabanaswadi to MG Road, we paid anything from Rs 52, Rs 56, Rs 57, Rs 62 and even Rs 68 for the same route. We’re not sure which is the correct amount.
Meter tampering has become a nightmare. According to N Prakash, controller of department of legal metrology, tampering of mechanical meters can be checked only by mandating use of electronic meters.
Prakash has a three-pronged solution: change over to electronic meters, mass checking drive and updating of addresses of licence holders to easily locate them.
The traffic police is more involved in easing congestion and controlling traffic jams, leaving them hardly any time for helping commuters waiting for an auto.
“The police have become insensitive to issues like helping a commuter hire an auto. This has to change and will take time,” says a senior officer. He said commuters aren’t taking the issue seriously — the police receive very few complaints.
Computerised record of offenders, which is still in trial stage, will go a long way in curtailing refusals and excess charging, police say. The EasyAuto system in which you can hire an auto by sending an SMS to a particular number could be an effective solution.
‘Illa illa’
“MG Road barthira?’ (Will you come to MG Road) “Illa.’ (No). Another autorickshaw. “MG Road barthira?’’ “Illa.’’ Yet another auto. “MG Road barthira?” “Illa, riperi agide.’’ (no, auto under repair) This was our experience at Ulsoor Lake, when trying to hail an auto to MG Road on May 25 when the skies dumped over 36 mm of rain. We saw a police constable at the pre-paid stand on MG Road sending four passengers going to Banaswadi in one auto at about 9 pm. Passengers were instructed to pay Rs 100 each. The fare to Banaswadi is less than Rs 80. Desperate passengers had to accept this unfair arrangement.
We tried to flag down 16 autorickshaws on Kamaraj Road going towards Commercial Street on a Sunday when it was drizzling at about 8 pm. We wanted to go to Ulsoor Lake.
All refused.
Once I paid Rs 75 from Koramangala 80 ft Road to JP Nagar I Phase though the fare is Rs 35. The meter was turning over at a high speed and the driver dared me to lodge a complaint. Just the other evening, I wanted to go to MG Road from JP Nagar and waited for 45 minutes for an auto because most of them refused to come.
| Dr Reena Sunil Basavraj, paediatrician
I’m an 80-year-old dialysis patient and hunting for an auto to ferry me to Manipal Hospital from HAL II Stage has become a daily ordeal. On many occasions, my daughter and I had to walk back home. A common excuse is ‘the distance is small’. They refuse to put on the meter and demand a hefty sum for a distance of 2 km. Why can’t we have pre-paid counters near the hospitals?
| Krishna Rao
Once I waited for two-and-a-half hours on MG Road for an auto to go my house behind Christ College. I use crutches because my two legs are non-functional stumps and I have no family to look after me. It is such a pain because just outside my office are many regular autos who refuse to come to my area.
| Vedavathi G M R, bank officer WHAT THE AUTO UNION HAS TO SAY
Autorickshaw owners invest about Rs 2 lakh per vehicle. And in many cases they pay interests — ‘meter baddi,’ up to 30 per cent per annum. Therefore, auto drivers end up overcharging customers, said Bangalore Autorickshaw and Taxi Drivers Association R Somashekar.
He said not all drivers overcharge but about 40 per cent of the drivers do. As a corrective measure, drivers have to be trained and the government must computerise all the autorickshaw and owner details to bring in greater accountability.
Mechanical teeth in the meter are fabricated and preset so that they move after a particular distance. Minimising the number of teeth will enable the meter to show increased fares. Though it’s not very easy to break the seal, experts can do this in no time. Tampering is done mainly in small garages which don’t easily catch the attention of the authorities. The only way to nab the culprits is to catch them red-handed which is not easy.


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