MADURAI: After being confined to houses owing to the pandemic, it has not been that long since the residents of Madurai began to travel freely again. However, what welcomed them back to the roads after the isolation was equally dispiriting. Auto rickshaws were haphazardly overloading passengers, and mercilessly fleecing them. Cab aggregators, on the other hand, take advantage of the high demand and have hiked their fares. In this situation, people from all walks of life have requested the State government to hold discussions and regulate transport services and their tariffs.
Speaking to TNIE, D Mariammal (60), a fruit vendor, said, "Every day I come to Madurai city to sell fruits that are grown in my village Vellayampatti near Alanganallur. Travelling by share autos was helpful as I had to shell out only Rs 40 for the whole journey. However, now they have increased the fares and even the minimum fare has been hiked to Rs 15. Frequent bus services are not available on my route, so I have no other choice but to continue paying the unreasonable rates."
Social worker and Assistant Professor at The American College S Balakrishnan said share autos had made inroads into every nook and cranny of the city and rural areas. "An auto is permitted to carry three passengers, but they even sometimes cram 10 persons into it. There is less number of industries in the district, and hence lots of youth here struggle to land jobs. Many of them choose to drive share autos. Public too prefer this transport as the fare is significantly lower than normal auto rickshaws," he noted.
He further said though the State had witnessed many fatalities owing to auto rickshaw overloading, no significant effort was taken to regulate their services. "Also, the TNSTC should urgently conduct a survey and increase bus services during peak hours," Balakrishnan added.
Speaking to TNIE, Joint Transport Commissioner Pon Senthilkumar said as per High Court directions, the city traffic police had strictly warned share auto drivers against overcrowding and altering seats in the vehicles. "If any driver is found violating the rules, the officials can suspend the vehicle's services for 15 days. Further, a monthly special drive is being conducted by officials from the police department and the district administration to create awareness on safety measures. A total of 16,000 auto rickshaws are permitted to ply in each district," he added.
In 2013, the State government had fixed Rs 1 tariff for 1 km distance travelled in share autos, said Road Transport Officer (North) Selvam. "No further regulation of tariff followed and hence the drivers fixed the rates. With regard to cab aggregators, the government has to decide whether the officials can regulate their rates," he said.
Speaking to TNIE, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) auto drivers' unit District Secretary said Covid-19 outbreak, rising fuel prices and free travel for women in town buses had wreaked havoc on auto drivers' livelihoods. "On top of all this, lots of our passengers prefer to travel by cabs. Lots of times, we made representations to the government for discussing various issues. But, they have not called us yet," he said.