Most Mumbaikars detest the largely rickety auto rickshaws and their hostile drivers, but can’t do without them either. This has led to proliferation of illegal three-wheelers in the city, a majority of them thronging the railway stations in the suburbs -- Borivli, Kandivli, Goregaon, Andheri, Bandra, etc -- honking incessantly and the drivers calling out to people at the top of their lungs to come for a ride.
However, in the past few days the traffic police and regional transport officials have been spotted swinging their sticks and hollering at these drivers asking them to move their vehicles that clog the roads.
The auto unions have been claiming that these rickshaws are illegal, as they don’t have permits and many of the drivers ply with expired licences. Now, every morning, traffic cops and RTO officials arrive at these stands from where the share rickshaws ply, and try to discipline the drivers, asking them to stand in queue rather than swarming in from all sides.
“The drivers refuse to mend their ways. So we need to sway our sticks and force them to leave the area right outside the railway stations,” said some traffic cops in Borivli and Kandivli. The drivers claim that the sticks often end up damaging their vehicles, creating dents, and at times damaging the taillights.
Similarly, at Bandra terminus and Bandra railway station, cops are on their toes, constantly asking the autowallahs to get in line. Bandra station, especially on the east side, is known for unruly drivers plying illegal rickshaws. These vehicles operate under the share-a-rickshaw scheme and generally overcharge commuters.
“We have written many times to the transport department about the issue of illegal autos, but the matter has been ignored,” said an auto union leader from Bandra, who claims he was threatened by these illegal rickshaw drivers. Meanwhile, traffic officials maintain that they are not running an exclusive campaign, but have started taking action against the errant drivers due to constant complaints from the public.
“Normally, during monsoons people are inconvenienced by the auto rickshaws that congest the roads near railway stations. We are taking action against these autos,” said GD Giri, assistant commissioner of police (traffic), West.
If the claims of the auto unions are to be believed, then of the 1.04 lakh rickshaws in the city, nearly 25,000 -- plying in the eastern and western suburbs -- are illegal.
Number of illegal autos plying in the suburbs, according to rickshaw unions