Monday, Dec 29, 2003
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By Sudhish Kamath
CHENNAI. DEC. 28. A passenger from Bangalore gets off a train at Chennai Central and is hounded by autorickshaw drivers the minute she sets foot outside. Looking around for a pre-paid autorickshaw, she makes her way to the auto stand, hoping to avoid tampered meters, subsequent arguments with the drivers and unreasonable fares.
She sees a lone policeman, who is busy sharing a joke with the drivers. The booth attendant quickly scribbles down her destination (merely a word, Anna Nagar) and the fare applicable.
The ride ended. The distance travelled was 10 kilometres. The fare charged was Rs. 70.
Just a week ago, she had taken a pre-paid auto from the Bangalore City station.
The auto stand regulated by the local police ensured a harassment-free experience. The system was computerised with details of autorickshaws and drivers fed into the system. The driver courteously returned the change. The distance travelled was seven kilometres. The fare demanded was Rs. 36 (inclusive of Re.1 service charge).
"The system in Chennai is a non-starter. It is a farce," she laments. "Even if I had bargained with any auto driver without going in for the pre-paid auto system, I could have got away by paying less."
The manually managed pre-paid system here offers little support to passengers. First, there is no scientific record of the transaction no counterfoil or carbon copy that facilitates accounting of money collected or any proof of the amount actually paid by the passenger.
Second, there are no signatories and hence zero accountability on the part of the pre-paid auto staff the passenger and the driver's names are invariably left unrecorded in the form.
Third, there is hardly any regulation or police intervention to check harassment. Passengers allege that the police and the autorickshaw drivers are `hand in glove' and hence there is no enforcement of fare discipline. Fourth, passengers have no specialised helplines to report malpractice.
A member of the Goodwill Auto Drivers Association, however, argues that passengers can file complaints at the local police station. "Every autorickshaw carries the registration details as also the telephone number of the local police station. A passenger only needs to note down the registration number and report it to the police".
The Bangalore Pre-paid Auto/Taxi service, a joint venture of the Karnataka Government, the railway police and the local auto/taxi drivers associations, is a good model for Chennai to follow and put in place more passenger-friendly measures.
The computerised system (with ticket numbers and receipt numbers clearly printed on the form) records transactions and facilitates accounting.
The initials of the issuing clerk printed on the form ensures accountability.
Efficient police regulation checks harassment. And helplines and railway police control room numbers provided on the pre-paid autorickshaw ticket prevent malpractice.
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