November 28, 2016
A passenger bargaining with an auto driver is a common sight in a bustling city like Coimbatore. Even though the government has fixed the minimum fare — Rs 25 for the first 1.8 kms and Rs 12 for every extra kilometre — most auto drivers have made a habit of fleecing passengers.
Offering some relief in this scenario are private players Makkal Auto, Namma Auto and Ungal auto, the GPS-enabled call service auto rickshaws, which entered the chaotic scene in early 2004. They have since proven to be game changers.
“Auto drivers with a valid commercial license can earn up to Rs 15,000 per month and if he owns the vehicle, he can earn more than Rs 25,000. There are some who earn up to Rs 50,000 a month. So, the whole argument that government approved tariff is not viable is gone to pieces now,” said T Selvaraj, the proprietor of Makkal Transport Corporation, which runs Makkal Auto.
“Our take home is only Rs 500 a day as we have to shell out Rs 4,500 per month for repayment of loan, apart from fuel. A diesel auto is priced at Rs 2.40 lakh and the petrol version Rs 1.70 lakh. Some of my friends operate in the odd hours of the night to earn an extra buck, as we can charge 50 per cent extra over the fare during night hours,” said Muthu, an auto driver.
There is obvious tension between the new and ‘traditional’ auto rickshaw operators, including instances of physical attacks reported on the new service providers. The Joint Action Committee of Coimbatore District Autorickshaw Workers’ Unions even appealed to the district administration to ban Makkal Auto, as they endangered the livelihood of 12,000 auto rickshaw drivers in the city, and the fare collected by them was unviable, the auto drivers affiliated to various trade unions said.
But T Selvaraj begs to differ, “Though two of our drivers Vivek Dayal and Pugazhendhi were attacked near Coimbatore Railway Station and the Ganapathy area, and the case still on trial in the courts, we have proved that our service is viable and we have grown into a service provider of a 300-strong fleet from just about a 30-odd fleet.”
A.Manoj, a social activist, notes that many auto drivers do not even have the valid commercial license (badge) or RC book to run the vehicle legally. “A passenger travelling in such an auto rickshaw is travelling at his own risk as insurance claims cannot be made,” he said.
“If people wake to the fact that fleecing by auto drivers is done with their indirect consent and if they stop hailing autos that fleece them, this problem will come to end in a year’s time,” said Selvaraj.