Mangalore: When Auto Drivers Take Public for a Royal Ride...
by Florine Roche
Daijiworld Media Network - Mangalore
Mangalore, Aug 17: Many e- mail users must have got this mail recently asking people to say “no” to autos and taxis on 12th August, 2010 because they say no to you whenever you want. So are you ready to skip the ride? It asked. In continuation it said “because strike needs a strike back. We are tired of meters that always read more than it should, drivers who refuse to ply and demand return fare….and there are strikes. Everyone is holding the janta to ransom. Now it is time to turn the table”.
Well, I remembered reading this mail when I witnessed this scene in the Mangalore Railway Station on 14th August, 2010. One woman traveler asked the auto driver waiting at the railway station to go to some destination and he refused point blank. The woman requested the driver a few times and a Police Inspector who was a witness to this whole saga also appealed to the driver to take her to the destination. The driver did not budge and started giving excuses.
The inspector thought enough was enough and caught hold of him and took him to the police station despite his protests.
There have been numerous instances about the unethical practices and rude behavior of auto drivers as they resort to all sorts of tactics to swindle unsuspecting and helpless customers who depend on autos at odd hours such as early morning or late nights when bus transport facility is not available. This happens mainly in railway or bus stops where helpless customers have no other choice but to surrender to the whims of the auto drivers. Some passengers end up paying more to the autos than what they paid for their entire train journey. A colleague of my friend was explaining to me on how he was charged Rs. 150/- from Mangalore Central Railway Station to Bejai recently, which is nothing but cheating customers. “I was helpless and I knew he charged me more than it costs even if it is charged at 1 ½ . But there was no other means of transport from the railway station and I had shell out whatever he demanded. I don’t mind paying a few extra bucks but not this kind of robbery”, he explained.
It is not just in terms of auto fares that auto drivers cheat the gullible public. What is even more galling is that all auto drivers gang up in lending support to their fellow drivers in the event of any public altercations. They blindly support the auto drivers as an act of solidarity with their fellow man.
A photo-journalist recently had a bad experience when an auto driver slammed to his brother’s jeep that had Kerala State registration. The auto driver had driven recklessly and had hit the rear side of the jeep. There was not much damage to the auto except its front light which got cracked. The auto driver with the support of other drivers demanded Rs. 1000/- as damages and he thought he could get away because the jeep was bearing Kerala registration and the auto driver thought the driver would shell out that much amount rather than take the trouble of coming to Mangalore in the event of a case. But the driver got a surprise of his life when the matter was taken to the police station and resulting in the police seizing his auto after it was found that he was drunk.
It is true some auto drivers put in extra efforts to be in bus stands and railway stations during odd hours and as a reward for the extra effort they are entitled to charge the customer 1 ½ of the cost of the meter if it is before 6 am and after 8 pm. Customers willingly pay this amount and some customers even may give some extra tips over and above that cost. What is noisome is the way the drivers cheat taking customers for a royal ride purposely in order to swindle more money. Some auto drivers refuse to ply short distance, which is again irritable, because they are unable to cheat due to the low and minimum cost of auto fare.
Ivan D Souza, who is the President of Auto Rickshaw Owners and Drivers Association, Mangalore, agrees that such complaints are common against auto drivers in the city. “In every meeting of the union the drivers are told not to resort to cheating the customers and win over the confidence of the customers by being just. If the customers complain to the RTO in writing or orally giving the registration number of the auto and the place from which the driver refused to ply, the RTO will take action. Such autos will be seized for 2 to 3 days or his license will be suspended along with fine so that they desist from such activities. The union will in no way come to the rescue of such drivers or support their cause”, Ivan stated.
Ivan also pointed out that an auto which is in the bus or railway station cannot refuse customers to go to any destination and the public is free to complain to the RTO about such autos. Ivan also stated that to avoid this kind of cheating by the auto drivers, pre-paid auto service has been put up at KSRTC and railways stations both at Mangalore Central and Kankanady. However, on inquiry it is learnt that no such service is available either in railway or bus stations. One of the railway officials confirmed that pre-paid auto functioned only about a month or so and now only the booth is there and no service, thus leaving the passengers totally under the mercy of unscrupulous auto drivers.
Pre-paid auto service is a good remedy to get rid of dishonest auto drivers. But that does not solve the root cause of the problem. There are so many ways they try to cheat credulous customers. The change of attitude has to come from the auto drivers rather than imposing it on them. Many of them refuse to charge the meter and fix or demand a certain amount of money to go to a particular destination. The best way to get rid of this kind of annoyance is to complain to the RTO by customers against drivers who cheat or refuse to go to any particular destination.
Regional Transport Officer Seva Naik, who recently took charge as Mangalore RTO, agrees there are complaints about the rude behavior and cheating by auto drivers. Customers can complain to the RTO in writing giving details of the auto number, which is very important and if possible give details of the place from where the auto operated. “Once we receive a complaint we call both the parties and try to assess the situation. The guilty driver will be punished by suspending his license for one or two weeks. This will act as a deterrent and repeated such complaints would lead to the cancellation of license. If the license is suspended it will be listed in his license history as black mark which will serve as a deterrent”, said Seva Naik when asked what action RTO takes on erring auto drivers.
Customers also can call 100 and complain and traffic police would respond immediately. But a complaint to the RTO is the best way to deal with the problem.
One Avinash from Vamanjoor had recently complained to the RTO about the misbehavior of an auto driver giving his vehicle number and other details. The department called the driver to the office and initiated proper action based on the complaint. However, the RTO did not rule out the possibility of such drivers running the auto even when the license is suspended. “Auto drivers will commit such blunders at their own peril. They will face real problem if at all something goes wrong during that period”, says the RTO.
So the next time you feel an auto driver is refusing to ply you or is demanding more money without using the meter, the best way out of the impasse is to telephone 100 and follow it up by a complain to the RTO against such erring auto drivers. It is better to act rather than merely talk bout harassment by auto drivers.
In the meantime, the RTO has called a meeting of Atuo Owners and Drivers on 23rd August at the D C’s office to discuss fare fixation, at 3.30 pm, in which auto owners and drivers, traffic police and other concerned departments will take part. RTO has said the public can participate in this meeting and express their grievances or the problems they face from auto drivers.
The need of the hour is to set up pre-paid auto services at both the railway stations and at KSRTC bus stop which will be helpful for travelers especially outsiders whom the auto drivers find it easy to cheat.