Pre-paid auto stands fail to rein in fleecing drivers?

Even as the traffic police plan to set up more auto stands, complaints of harassment and overcharging by drivers continue to pour in

The Bangalore Metro has surely saved passengers on the Reach I route from the torture tactics of auto drivers, but lakhs of commuters on the routes where the mass transit system has not yet stretched its legs, are still being subjected to fleecing and a daily dose of humiliation by arrogant autowallahs.

(Clockwise from top) The reporter starts her reality check from Ulsoor Road towards her first stop MG Road pre-paid auto stand; on her way to MG Road, she interacts with the auto driver about how they run into losses as the prepaid fares are very lower

While the Bangalore Traffic Police are projecting pre-paid auto stands as the new way of tightening the screw on errant auto drivers, they are charging extra money from passengers in addition to pre-paid fare with near impunity.

Such is their might that they can throw you out of the vehicle in the middle of nowhere if you refuse to oblige them. Even as such complaints are pouring in from customers, who have been calling the hotline number for weeks, many claim to have received no response.

More stands on cards
As part of its drive, the traffic police inaugurated the fifth pre-paid auto stand at Brigade Road last week. They plan to open four more stands across the city.

But will opening of more and more pre-paid stand help rein the 'autocratic autowallah'? According to traffic experts, the drive has hardly been able to discourage auto drivers from fleecing passengers.
The traffic police will have to patrol the routes and take stringent action against a few offending auto drivers to discourage others from indulging in this malpractice.

'This is autocracy'
The RTO, traffic police and various auto unions had worked together to prepare a rate chart that all pre-paid auto drivers are supposed to abide by. But auto drivers claim that the fares are very low.
The drivers also justify their demand of extra amount from the customers as they always want be dropped at the doorstep.

On the other hand, commuters tell horrific tales about the auto drivers 'autocracy and insensitivity'. "I had taken an auto from MG Road pre-paid stand to IISc around 9.30 pm and paid a fare of Rs 70.

But the auto driver suddenly stopped the vehicle in a dark road midway and ordered me to cough up Rs 30 more or get off.
I had no option but to oblige him as I could not have got another vehicle to reach my destination," said Aditya Sinha, a student.

Show of insensitivity
Take the case of Harleen Kaur, a teenage student, who was abandoned midway in the dead of night by an auto driver as she refused to pay the extra amount demanded by him.
"I had taken an auto from the Brigade road pre-paid auto stand to HSR Layout and mid way the auto driver demanded Rs 20 extra.
I refused to pay him and so he gruffly told me to get off his auto. It was very late in the night and he abandoned me in the middle of no where," said Harleen.

Reality check
When MiD DAY team conducted a reality check at three different and prominent pre-paid auto stands across the city, they encountered both errant and honest auto drivers.

The honest said because of a handful of errant drivers, the whole community is being demonsied. "Not everyone is dishonest.

We stick to pre-paid stands because we get an honest amount for our work and there is minimal corruption," said Radhakrishna, an auto driver from MG Road Prepaid stand.

The meter charge from MG Road to Commercial Street comes up to Rs 32. But when MiD DAY team took a three-wheeler from the Brigade Road prepaid auto stand, they were charged Rs 21.

When questioned the auto driver, Qaseem Khan, said, "It is a huge loss. We ply short distances from this auto stand and take at least 100 trips daily. We lose a lot of money, but it is a safe income coming in."

Cops' no show

At Commercial Street there were at least 10 customers standing outside the prepaid auto stand, but no cop was seen at the stand to issue tickets.

"I take an auto from this stand daily to Koramangala. But cops are rarely seen at this stand," said Hakim Mustafa, a shopkeeper from Commercial Street.

Two autos that MiD DAY team hired as part of an informal investigation from Malleshwaram Mantri Mall prepaid auto stand and from Koramangala Forum prepaid stand, demanded Rs 50 more than the fare mentioned in the rate chart.

Why fleece people?
Asked why he was demanding more than actual fare, Girish, an auto driver from Forum, said, "How can I feed my family on such a meagre earning. It's our compulsion to ask for a little favour from you people."

The other auto driver from Malleshwaram demanded extra fare and when the MiD DAY team refused to cough up the amount, he threw them out of the vehicle midway and also refused to return the prepaid fare already paid at the stand.

On behalf of his community, a member of the auto and taxi union revealed the problem they face. "The fare is fixed from one point to the other. Often customers demand to be dropped at their doorstep. We are not paid extra for that," said Shivkumar.

Commenting on the issue, the Additional Commissioner of Traffic, M A Saleem, said that this system has been put in place to bring errant drivers to task.

"All complaints coming in are dealt with seriously. Prepaid auto stand will help bring about transparency and stop fleecing and harassment by auto drivers.
It is an organised system and since it is working well, we are planning to introduce four more such stands. They will come up at Garuda Mall Magrath Road, KSRTC bus stand, Jayanagar and Koramangala Inner Ring Road," said Saleem.

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