KOCHI: Meter down - I
Tarun took an autorickshaw from near Lulu Mall. He had to go to Kaloor. But once he reached his destination and it was time to pay, he got a shock! The driver asked him Rs 180. “An argument ensued and I demanded to see the meter. But little did I know that it didn’t work. The driver said the meter doesn’t work and even if it did the fare was not justified,” said Tarun. This is daylight robbery, he adds.
Meter down - II
Roshni Menon, who works in a private firm in Kaloor, was in a hurry since she had to reach Ernakulam South Railway Station to catch the Okha Express. The time was around 7:30 pm and the train’s departure time was 8:30 pm. She began hailing autorickshaws. But, had no luck. “Though some of them did stop, they refused to go to the station citing traffic jams and other frivolous excuses.
Many of them cited huge amount as fare. Finally, after much haggling, I was able to hire one for a fare of Rs 80. But once I reached the station the driver cited Rs 100 as the fare. I was taken aback. When I argued with him he said the amount is justified since he had to take a detour due to the ongoing Metro works,” she said. I had to cough up the amount since even the meter was not working, she added.
The incident happened at Ernakulam North Railway Station. A couple of foreign tourists were trying to hire an auto from the illegal stand at the back entrance of the station. Raju, who works at a private firm in Kakkanad, said, “The amount the drivers cited was huge. The tourists who are unaware of the regular fare get taken for a ride by these unscrupulous autorickshaw drivers.
When the tourists asked about the rate shown on the meter, they were informed that the instrument didn’t work. On seeing me standing nearby, one of them asked me about the fare. When I gave the rate fixed by the government, the drivers started abusing me,” he said. The situation becomes even worse after 8:00 pm. “The fare is charged as per the whims and fancies of the drivers and might go up to even Rs 250,” he said.
These incidents bode ill for Kochi that is vying for the smart city status. The abusive and uncouth behaviour of these people defeat the purpose of establishing a smart transportation system which is a criterion of the Smart City project.According to K L Franklin, JRTO, Ernakulam, an autorickshaw driver can’t refuse a ride. “If an auto driver refuses a ride or charges a fare more than that shown on the meter or doesn’t charge as per the meter he will be fined an amount of Rs 1,000,” he said.
But it seems the fine and penalties are not deterring the drivers as Mary found out. “I live in Ponekkara. Since only a few buses do service along this route, I have to depend upon autorickshaws to reach Edappally, from where I catch a bus to my college. But I have to again depend upon autos to reach my college.
The rates differ from one person to another and when you ask them to switch on their meter, you will have to brace yourself for the verbal abuse they let loose,” she said adding if this is the case of the locals one can’t imagine how they treat the tourists. “There is no use in questioning the exorbitant fare since most of them misbehave. We are all victims here, the situation will not change unless rules are strictly enforced,” said Lakshmi, a government employee.
According to the traffic police officers, around 2,075 petty cases have been registered against auto drivers this year in which 480 cases are for not switching on the meters. “In January, of the 423 petty cases, 65 were for not switching on the meter. In February, 421 petty cases were reported in which 95 were for not switching on the meter.
In March, 732 petty cases were reported out of which 187 were for not switching on the meter. In April, 499 petty cases were reported of which 133 were for not switching on the meter,” said Saijal, ASI, city Traffic Police Station. According to drivers, the fare fixed by the government is not sufficient. “Diesel prices have gone up but the minimum fare has not been increased. We are forced to charge more money,” said Saju, autorickshaw union leader.
(With inputs from Niranjana J Varma & Cizeya Antony)