KOCHI: Pre-paid auto counters in the city were installed to end the perpetual tug-of-war between passengers and auto drivers and ensure fixed fares and security to travellers. These counters exist at almost all major locations in the city, including Edapally, Palarivattom, Vyttila Hub and north and south Railway Stations. However, like most systems, these counters seem to have lost their utility.
Recently, Express had
reported the plight of Ashiq Haider Ali, who had to wander around Aluva railway station with an infant in hand, because the pre-paid counter was shut. On further investigation, we found that most pre-paid counters are doing nothing to alleviate the travel woes of people.Outside Vyttila Hub, a major point of transport in Kochi, the pre-paid auto counter was unmanned. A group of auto-rickshaw drivers quickly approached the counter to inform the Express team that the staff had just stepped out.
“It is `116 to Ernakulam South Junction. You have to pay `20 extra as service charge,” one of them said, as he hopped behind the counter, entered the location in the system and came out with a receipt. The city police patrol van parked right opposite was empty too. An amount of `96 was printed on the paper for a distance of six kilometres.
When enquired about the extra `20, the driver of the autorickshaw blames it on the overbridge construction at Vyttila Junction. “The U-turn is another 2 km, so the extra rate is for that. Once it is cleared, we will go back to the original amount, which is why they haven’t changed it in the system,” he adds confidently.
It was clear that the authorities concerned were very well aware of this temporary adjustment. “This is a regular thing around Vyttila and Maradu. Bridge
construction isn’t the public’s fault. An air-conditioned cab costs you `126 while these auto rides cost `116. How unfair is this?” says Nithin Xavier, an IT employee who commutes through the hub daily. When quizzed about the same, G Poonguzhali, DCP of Traffic, said there is no such spike in charges that the office has approved.
As we reached the south station, the pre-paid counter at the back gate was empty. The drivers who lined up outside were keen to get riders and announced rates as they pleased. According to the Traffic West authorities that control the north and south stations, pre-paid counters are closed only at night. They clearly seemed uninformed about the state of affairs. “It has come to our notice that auto drivers are not following norms at railway stations. We have called them for a meeting and measures will be taken to regulate them better,” said Poonguzhali.
Landmarks need updation
At Ernakulam Junction Railway Station main gate, Express team asked for a ride to a location just 350 metres from Kaloor Junction. Perplexed, and absolutely clueless of any landmarks along the way, the police officer at the counter issued a receipt to Kaloor Junction. We got on the auto, and the driver agreed to take us to the exact destination, but despite a marked fare of C62, he demanded C80 from us—for an extra distance of 350 metres.
The database at pre-paid counters has a list of very few landmarks around the city. If the commuter isn’t completely aware of the drop location, this turns a golden chance for auto drivers to overcharge them or take a longer route. The officials at the counter offer no help, even if the traveller is a tourist or non-city resident. “Once, I took a pre-paid auto to Palarivattom and the same thing happened. When I refused to pay `20 to be dropped 150 metres ahead, the driver told me to ‘get out and walk’,” says Gouri Satheesh, a city resident. However, the ACP Traffic West says t may be hard to monitor such anomalies. “We can only be accountable for the distance and rate as given in receipt. If the drivers are charging extra, travellers must take it up with the police,” he said.