HYDERABAD: Juggling multiple suitcases and travel bags, AG Prasad Kumar reached outside Secunderabad railway station returning from a family vacation on Friday. Prasad, who is in his late forties, was welcomed by a group of auto drivers who constantly tried to canvas and bargain with him. Regardless of walking up to the pre-paid autorickshaw counter, he could not find solace. Tired of this, he decided to take a bus to JNTUH in Kukatpally.
It's been three years since the pre-paid auto hiring system was introduced by the Road Transport Authority in association with the Hyderabad Traffic Police at the station. It was to ensure that people coming to the city from outside have a safe and hassle-free travel to their destination. However, that objective has still not been met. For most customers claim that despite a system being put in place, auto drivers demand more money.
"It's terrible to be stranded outside the station with luggage in the scorching heat. That is the reason I decided to take a bus. The price they demand is also is at least `150 or `200 more than the price decided by the pre paid counter," said Prasad Kumar. The tokens issued at an additional price of `5 have the details of where the customer should be dropped based on the number of kilometres.
While Prasad Kumar decided to take a bus, another passenger S Swapna rued about auto drivers getting the tokens for themselves. "We are not sure if they are colluding with the persons at the counter. On the other hand, after we reach our destination, they ask for additional money. They crowd around us, giving us no chance to go to the pre-paid counter," she said.
This is the ground reality at Secunderabad Railway Station. They park their vehicles at the pre-paid counter, while others go to passengers and start fixing prices. Passengers also complained that they have to wait for a long time during this process. Also, there are four pre-paid auto-rickshaw counters, but only two of them are currently functioning at the Secunderabad Railway Station.
The auto drivers blame the rise in fuel prices for this. N Sampath, an auto driver said, "Fuel prices are increasing quite regularly. However, the traffic police do not make any amends in the prices that are fixed at the pre-paid counter. They still go by the old fares and this is affecting us. Hence, we have to directly approach the passengers." He added that what they charge is quite reasonable.
When contacted, DCP(Traffic), T Amarkanth Reddy (North and West Zone) told Express that he will inquire into the matter. "We will conduct an inquiry on the issues and take the necessary action on the contractors." He also said that GHMC officials who are supposed to set up boards about pre-paid counters are not doing it. "We have given sent many requests to GHMC officials to arrange boards to increase awareness among passengers. We also do not have the funds to open the other two counters," he added.
A lesson from Bengaluru Cantonment station
One of the few railway stations in the country to have successfully implemented the pre-paid auto system, at least compared to other cities, is the Bengaluru Cantonment station. Here auto drivers are asked to come in a line and pick up the passengers who book the ride on a first come, first serve basis. A couple of traffic cops are always present monitoring and regulating the auto drivers and passengers. As a result, the demand of cab aggregators here is relatively less compared to other localities.