Commuting is going the way of property in this city. Before your rant over the last price hike can hit punctuation, a new one is around the corner to keep you cursing. This time, though, there may be hope to check the relentlessly growing strain on your wallet. With one week to go before the auto and taxi unions make the familiar noise for another fare hike, the consumer organisation Mumbai Grahak Panchayat (MGP) has shot a letter to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. The letter asks him not to allow any further hike as judgment on the criminally high fares is pending in court.
If another hike is forced on citizens from May 1, it would burden lakhs of commuters both in the city and the suburbs, being the fourth overall hike in 19 months for auto rickshaws, and the third in 15 months for taxis. Consumer organisations and commuters are understandably opposed to another hike in the days to come. In fact, right after the last hike in October 2012, the MGP had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court.
The Panchayat’s letter addressed to the CM states that ‘the PIL is presently under active consideration of the high court. In view of its pendancy and in view of the entire matter being sub-judice, it will be highly improper for the government to consider any further fare hike for taxis and autos with effect from May 1, 2013’. The court will be hearing the PIL today.
The letter further states, ‘We hope that in deference of pending PIL and in view of the fact that adequate fare hike has already been given in recent past, you will desist from considering any further fare hike for autos and taxis till the disposal of our PIL’. With commuter woes - a malady every Mumbaikars knows only too well - finding vent all the way to Prithviraj Chavan, you still may not want to raise your hopes for relief, not if you fear the matter-of-fact tone of the union leaders (see box).
The impending hike is based on the state’s acceptance last year of the Hakeem Committee recommendations. One of the suggestions was that auto and taxi fares be revised every May based on various factors, including the cost of living index, cost of fuel and other vehicle parts. During the hearing of the MGP’s PIL, the high court had earlier expressed dissatisfaction about appointing the ‘one-man’ Hakeem Committee. The court instead suggested appointing an expert committee comprising veterans from various industries.
Since year 2011, the fares of autos have gone up considerably. In October 2011, there was revision in fare for every subsequent kilometre by 0.50 paise. In April 2012, the initial fare for 1.6 km went up by a rupee and within a matter of six months the initial fare went up by Rs 3 while the minimum distance came down to 1.5 km. Similarly fares of taxis too went up by Rs 1 for the minimum distances in March 2012 while the fare of subsequent kilometers increased by 0.50 paise. By October 2012 the basic fare increased by Rs 2 while the minimum distance came down to 1.5 km.
How much is too much?
Anger bubbled among commuters over the prospect of a hike, but in the absence of a real alternative a few seemed resigned to the idea. Some called for more consideration.
I am accustomed to this behaviour now. Commuters have no other alternative and they know that only too well. We are helpless. They understand that there is a demand and have a very mean attitude. It’s specially sad for senior citizens. They need to be a little considerate.
- Abhijit Kadam, working, Borivli resident
It is not practical to enforce all these price hikes all of a sudden. We students cannot afford it. Also, the auto and taxi drivers are very rude to us. They don’t want to travel short distances and we are the ones who suffer.
- Larissa Pinto, student
Travelling now is a problem. Fares have massively increased for long distances. The CNG and petrol price hikes are followed by fare hikes. It’s really frustrating when they turn you down for short distances, specially during rains. On top of that, they are rude.
- Akshay Ghewade, 21, Lower Parel
The government needs to understand that there should be a limit to everything. I don’t travel much by autos but I have heard about how rickshaw wallas refuse to give back change when the total amount is not a round figure. And they fight back if the commuters don’t have chhutta. All this is just too bad. The government should do something about it. We, as old people, need to be taken care of.
- Devika Ambaya, 58, Panvel
Driving the point home
The men in the driving seat are kicking up the blame on the union leaders. Many claim they did not know of the impeding hike, saying that they had little to do with the decision and that they sympathized with the commuters
We have no idea about this imminent price hike. Our life depends on the money that we earn. I’ve been an autowalla for a long time. It is not our fault if the union decides to increase fare. As far as attitude is concerned, our behaviour is based on how passengers treat us. They cannot behave in whatever way they want and expect us to be decent.
-Ramesh Gawde, autorickshaw driver
The earlier rate of Rs 10/km was a good deal. Everybody was happy, drivers and commuters. However since the time the rates have increased to Rs 19 per km, there is not much advantage to us. We don’t even breakeven, forget profits. Also, people crib about our behaviour with them, they need to learn to interact with us first.
- Vinod Kumar, 35, Koliwada
We treat all the people equally and refuse them only if we have an urgency. Still they talk to us rudely. We have some self-respect. And we have to obey our union if they decide to call a strike.
- Amba Rai, taxi driver
People don’t understand our problems as we belong to the economically weaker category. Sometimes, they abuse us if we refuse them.
- Jogeshwar Yadav, taxi driver
There is nothing that can be done about it. Hum bhi gareeb aadmi hain. We don’t take the call, nor have we asked for a hike. All this is determined by the unions, not us. We are not responsible for any hikes and do we understand the commuters’ problems.
- Sanjay P, taxi driver
Union leaders say
We have asked for a one-rupee fare hike from May 1, as the cost of living and the cost of spares for vehicles have gone up. We have been asking the drivers not to refuse ferrying passengers, and such instances have now come down. We also have regular meetings with them for improving their behaviour. Refusals have come down to 60%. Unless the government adds more autos to the fleet, drivers will have the option of refusing.
- Shashank Rao, Mumbai Autorickshawmen’s Union leader
We can't assure that there won’t be any refusals at all. The main problem is shortage of taxis which is why the drivers refuse. We have asked the government to increase the fleet.
- A L Quadros, Mumbai Taximen’s Union leader