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Autorickshaw unions battle for space at railway station

Special Correspondent

Stands promote fleecing; passengers helpless



UNAUTHORISED OCCUPATION: Autorickshaw stands in the city contribute to fleecing, as passengers do not have the option to hire vehicles on the move. - Photo: S. Siva Saravanan

COIMBATORE: In a case that is representative of the problem all over the city, two autorickshaw unions clash for stand space at the Coimbatore Railway Junction.

Members of the Coimbatore Railway Station Autorickshaw Drivers Sangham (affiliated to the Hind Mazdoor Sangh) and those of the union affiliated to the Centre of Industrial Trade Union (CITU) are locked in a battle over space at the western entrance of the junction.

The Sangham has alleged in a statement that nearly 40 autorickshaws belonging to the other union occupied space at the station forcing the former's 36 vehicles to park outside and risk action from authorities. This situation since February this year often led to clashes between the drivers.

Illegal

Though the authorities said that any autorickshaw could operate from any part of the city, a large number of vehicles took up spaces and erected boards that proclaimed these as stands belonging only to them. Autorickshaws from other areas were not allowed to pick up passengers from here. For instance, a vehicle belonging to Ramanathapuram was not allowed to pick up passengers from stands near the railway junction.

No official vested with the powers to eliminate this unauthorised system was taking any remedial measure, the statement alleged.

The Sangham had members who resolved to operate with meter fare in 1997. Calling themselves "White Flag Autos", they ferried passengers for a minimum fare of Rs. 7 (fixed by the State Government). They had white flags on their vehicles to help the public identify these as the ones that charged on meter fare.

These vehicles were gaining the patronage of the public at a time when call taxis were not introduced. But just as these autorickshaws looked to turn viable for the people, the movement died, as it did not get support from the Government departments concerned.

Now, these members were unable to regroup and restore meter fare. But, they wanted the `stand' system to be removed as it contributed to fleecing. Autorickshaw drivers demanded huge sums to compensate for the `empty' return trip. They could not pick up passengers only from their stands, drop them and return empty.

The autorickshaw system was successful in cities such as Bangalore and Kozhikode because any vehicle could be hired from any place. There was no area restriction. The 5,624 autorickshaws in Coimbatore city could still be a viable mode of public transport only if the `stand' system was eliminated and meter fare enforced.

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