Auto fares still unfair in Bandra

In spite of police action to curb extortion, commuters complain that drivers are still fleecing them

Spurred into action by MiD DAY's report ('A fare to remember', September 14), traffic police at the Western suburbs pulled up their socks and nabbed 24 rickshaw drivers in the act of conveying visitors to the fair ground at exorbitant rates, last Wednesday. In the remaining days of the fare, 59 drivers had their licenses suspended. But commuters claim that the rampant fleeing still continues.

Sacred: Devotees thronged Mother Mary's basilica yesterday.

Senior Inspector (traffic) Shivaji Devkar, who was in-charge of the flying squad operation at Bandra station during the fair, said, "Between Wednesday and yesterday, we caught and suspended licenses of at least 59 rickshaw drivers in Bandra."

When MiD DAY visited Bandra yesterday, the usual rickshaw queue outside the station was functional, but many pilgrims complained that they were being charged arbitrarily large amounts by drivers who refused to follow the meter readings.

Pilgrim Monisha Khan said, "We stood in line outside Bandra station and hopped into a rickshaw with ease, but on reaching the foot of the Mount, the rickshaw driver told us to pay him Rs 20 per passenger, even though the meter indicated a total sum of Rs 40. Since we were four passengers, we had to pay double the meter amount."

Anu Bhitre, deputy commissioner of police (traffic), western suburbs, said, "We have initiated the queue system to impose order outside the station. But it is difficult for us to control what happens when the pilgrims reach Mount Mary's. Due to lacks of proof, we are sometimes unable to nab the errant rickshaw drivers, as it is the passenger's word against the driver's. However, we have managed to nab a number of rickshaw drivers who were caught breaking the line at the station and extorting passengers."

A traffic cop stationed in Bandra said, "This is a racket rampant in Bandra, even on ordinary days. After the newspaper reports, things have been controlled to a certain extent, but I fear that drivers will resume their fleeing ways as soon as the fair is over. Many passengers offer extra money to the drivers to avoid standing in line, and this encourages the drivers. We try very hard to maintain order, but it is very difficult to do so if people do not listen to us."

A rickshaw driver said, "Most of us prefer to ferry people on a sharing basis, a we make more money that way, even when the fair is not on. Going by the meter reading causes us to incur heavy losses. The locals in Bandra are used to these rates."

Confirming the driver's contention, resident Sharmila Parekh said, "I don't mind sharing the auto with others, because that means that fares can be shared as well. Instead of Rs 35, I have to pay only
Rs 20."

Other passengers however begged to differ. Pamela D'Souza, resident of Hill road said, "Why would I pay Rs 20, when the meter says Rs 16?"

The traffic police department was seen heaving a collective sigh of relief yesterday, anticipating an end to the their toil. Many traffic police officers from other parts of the city had been deployed at Bandra for the past week, to help control the traffic situation.

"The traffic situation was really difficult to manage last week. We have seen many rickshaw drivers arguing with passengers over fares. The rickshaw drivers have their union and so we don't really want to get embroiled in their matters. We have tried our best to curb the problem in the past three-four days," revealed a traffic police.

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