Ramkishor Sharma (64) is having to deal with more than a fair share of the hazards that come with his occupation these days. With the monsoons at their peak in Mumbai, most of its roads are riddled with potholes, making it difficult for auto drivers and cabbies to navigate through them. Sharma has been driving autos for over 30 years and says this has been the worst year ever to be in the profession.
“The condition of the roads this monsoon is scary. We are not in this profession by our choice but have to do it for survival,” rued Sharma, who drives his auto for over 10 hours every day. He suffers from severe backache and a recent visit to the doctor led to complete bed rest for a few days.
If you spot long, winding queues of autos and cabs, chances are they are in line to get to the nearest garage. The rains, coupled with bad roads, have forced drivers to increase their garage visits. If the taxi and auto unions are to be believed, the city will suffer a dearth of autos and taxis if the condition of roads remains poor.
Anthony Quadros, general secretary of Mumbai Taximen’s Union, said, “We have been getting many complaints from taxi drivers about the damage caused to their vehicles due to the potholes. Every year roads are being repaired but the condition still remains the same.”
Many drivers are off the roads due to injuries or because their vehicles are not in a condition to be driven as a result of potholes. And the rest who continue to work are forced to cut down on their work hours. About 20 per cent of the total strength of cabs and autos are found in garages every day and the drivers are becoming regulars at city hospitals, said the unions.
Shashank Rao, assistant general secretary, Mumbai Auto rickshaw Union, said, “The condition of roads in the city is extremely poor. Apart from the health issues of the drivers, even accidents on roads have increased. We have written a letter to the BMC to repair the roads immediately for the safety of the passengers.”
Taxi drivers are afraid to ply on pothole-riddled stretches from Elphinstone Road to Parel and Hindmata, while auto drivers try to steer clear of uneven stretches in Andheri Kurla Road, LBS Marg, and the one from Ghatkopar to Chembur.
Arun Rai, owner of a garage in Sion, said that he usually gets about 20 autos and taxis for repairs but in this season the numbers have gone up to over 50 per day. “This is the first time we are getting so many vehicles to repair,” said Rai.
Right to refuse?
However, harried commuters who are often seen arguing with cabbies or auto drivers have a different story to tell. Most of them think that the increasing number of potholes is just another excuse that drivers give to wriggle out of driving to certain destinations. “The rainy season gives an excuse to the rickshaw drivers to refuse commuters. As a student I often end up missing my first lecture, as reaching Versova from Andheri station takes not less than half an hour. Is there any one who can explain our problems to the authorities?” said Neha Katdare, a daily commuter from Powai to Andheri.
Our View: ‘Potholes can’t be an excuse for cabbies’