CHENNAI: With a substantial number of autos and buses joining the strike announced by transport trade unions on Thursday to protest the proposed Road Safety and Transport Bill, passengers were left stranded and commuting was indubitably difficult than usual. To make matters worse, the harbingers of change on the city’s transport scape - app taxis and meter-reformed autos - decided to cash in, making it an expensive day for commuters who used their services.
Though quite a few autos were seen shuttling across the city, M S Rajendran, State general secretary of auto-rickshaw employees federation, said about 80 per cent of drivers did not work on Thursday. Commuters, like Arpita K, faced serious hardship in finding an auto. “I asked at least 15 autos before getting one. While most of them refused, a few demanded rates like `200 for what finally cost `56 by meter. The reason quoted for the high rate was that they were at least willing to operate at the risk of the vehicle getting damaged during possible violence. Some share autos were seen diverting from their regular routes. Because of the fewer vehicles available, crowds accumulated and share autos and buses were packed to capacity,” she said.
Bus-ting at Seams
Buses were a major no-show, as drivers affiliated to unions like LPF, CITU and AITUC took the day off. K Natarajan, LPF treasurer, said nearly 48 per cent of employees of the union across the State stayed away from work. As a result, the few buses that operated were packed to the brim leaving little room for the elderly and women.
App-based taxi services have come to the rescue in practically every situation so far, revolutionizing the way people travel. But on Thursday, regular users were in for a rude shock. IT professional S Balaji, who tried to book a Uber cab at 3.30 pm, said he got a message stating he would be charged three times the fare today since “demand is off the charts”. “I tried to book Ola and found that they too were charging peak hour rates. A message said I would be charged 1.3 times more,” he said.
This in fact turned out to be the common issue for several commuters. Priya R said, “I tried from 12.45 to 1.45 pm but the Ola app was not working, nor was their call centre number. I repeatedly tried their number and those of NTL and Fast Track. But all of them stayed busy. I managed to get through to Fast Track at 1.10 pm, but they said they can confirm a car only after 2 pm.”
According to customer inputs, Ola and Uber seemed to have increased fares due to high demand while others like Fast Track and NTL saw demand shooting through the roof. According to G Saravanan, director of NTL, demand rose nearly 150 per cent on Thursday. “The number of cab requests was more than double and we think it reached 150 per cent. We did close to 10,000 trips today, our maximum capacity in Chennai, from the daily average of 9,000,” he said.
Fast Track, on the other hand, claimed it was able to service all of its customers. According to M Prabhu, it saw increase of more than 20 per cent from its daily average. “We did around 18,000 to 19,000 trips today. Our daily average is a little above 15, 000 in Chennai,” he said. However, neither Fast Track nor NTL increased fares, according to company officials.
Many commuters travelling out of station by omni buses were unaffected by the strike, and vehicles continued to ply as usual from the CMBT. Travel agencies said all their buses were operated as usual. Passengers too did not face the brunt of the strike. While many were not even aware of the strike, some said apart for a short span of time in the morning, they were unaffected.
“From around 8 in the morning, people in my area had difficulty getting autos for nearly an hour. But we did not have difficulty getting here,” said Kumar K, a resident of Thiruvanmiyur. Deepa from Arumbakkam added, “We read about the strike, but did not see its effect anywhere. We got an auto easily.”