Sharad Rao, President of the Mumbai Rickshawmen’s Union, is ecstatic. The Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Transport Authority has accepted the Hakim Committee’s (see box: What is Hakim Committee?) report with almost no changes. Auto fares have been hiked by Rs 3, as suggested. From October 11, the minimum fare will be Rs 15 and every subsequent kilometre will cost Rs 10, instead of the Rs 10.14 suggested by the committee. “I am very happy that the Hakim formula has helped 15 lakh rickshaw drivers in Maharashtra. The minimum increase is a welcome change as the cost of living index has gone up. After 20 years, we have got justice,” he said at his office at Lower Parel, yesterday. In an extensive interview, Rao talks about rickshaws today, the notorious rigging and the rickshaw mafia, which often holds the commuter to ransom.
Many activists claim that this hike is unfair to passengers…
Haven’t vegetable prices gone up? Haven’t prices of essential goods gone up? If the aam aadmi is suffering then so are the auto drivers. Government bodies and other organisations get dearness allowance. What can the auto driver do? And this is not arbitrary. The hike is based on recommendations made after a proper study. The entire process was done in a peaceful manner.
When was your last fare hike?
In March, this year, we got a hike of Rs 1 – minimum fare was increased from Rs 11 to Rs 12. But that came after not having any hike from 2004 to 2010.
Why do you say that you’ve got justice after 20 years?
The Hakim Committee has given us what we have been demanding for 20 years: that our rate should not be decided on fuel prices. Fuel consumption cost is a very small cost. We wanted it to be based on the cost of living.
The Hakim Committee has based its formula on the cost of living index. It is a great victory for the rickshaw wallah. Second major expense is the expenditure to run the rickshaw. We have got justice there also. The formula also shows that every 12 months the rise in costs will be put in Hakim’s formula and the result will be declared on May 1. We will get a hike then. We welcome this step.
So you will not demand another hike till May 1, 2013?
Roughly, how many autorickshaws are plying in Mumbai?
There are around 93,000 autorickshaws of which 68,000 are legal and have the permits while 25,000 are illegal. In 1998-2004, the government issued 1,15,000 permits of which 30,000 expired. The government did not transfer them to the original permit holders’ family member’s name. These dead permits and the government’s refusal to give new permits have encouraged illegal rickshaws.
So there are autorickshaws plying without permit?
Without legal and official permit. You may see many autorickshaws plying on the same permit. These are rejected rickshaws that were repaired instead of replaced when they had to convert from petrol to CNG. There are 25,000 bogus rickshaws in operation. We have told the officials in writing, that these are operators mainly based in Bandra (E), Deonar, Chembur and other such locations. They are the ones who harass passengers, refuse to ply and misbehave with the passengers. Because of them, the genuine rickshaw wallah and the entire community have to take the blame.
Why is there so much friction between passengers and autorickshaw drivers?
We have asked the government to issue another 2 lakh permits in addition to the 30,000 dead permits. The city’s population has gone up a lot since 2004. There is also increase in passengers as the poor and middle classes are shifting from the city to the suburbs. Shouldn’t the government issue more permits? Today, for 10 people there is one rickshaw. So he chooses, he bargains, and all malpractices come into the picture. That’s the crux of the problem.
Are autorickshaw drivers not in favour of electronic meters?
We have told the government that if mechanical meter is tamperable, so is the electronic meter. The government claims that electronic meters cannot be tampered with and so we should replace the mechanical meters with them. When they have said it, it is their job to provide non-tamperable meter. But they issued licences for meters to any Tom, Dick and Harry. If you go to a garage, you will find 10 different types of electronic meters. You will buy one and put it in your illegal rickshaw because permit is not required to buy it. Most of the illegal rickshaws are operating with electronic meters. When people see electronic meters, they think it is genuine rickshaw.
But the same distance covered in the same time costs much lesser in an electronic meter than the mechanical meter...
Yes, if you compare an electronic meter that is non-tamperable, and a mechanical meter that is tampered, then you will find that the electronic meter is charging less. But nowadays even electronic meters are tamperable. They have even cancelled the licences of two meter suppliers. Genuine rickshaw wallahs will never charge extra, their livelihood depends on that. They will never indulge in this. The other reason is that the Hakim Committee’s recommendations were to be implemented in March. They are being implemented now in October. Meanwhile prices have gone up, my expenses are more now, how can I pay the difference? Those people who are shouting (against the hike in auto fares), are they shouting that vegetable prices have gone up? They only shout in the name of the auto rickshaw wallah.
Often, even though a Mumbaikar knows that the rickshaw’s meter has been tampered, he or she continues their journey and pays more because it is very difficult to get another rickshaw…
The government should take a stand. We don’t encourage this. If more permits are granted, there will be more autorickshaws on the roads to meet passengers’ needs.
So many autorickshaws refuse to take a passenger to his destination…
At least 25,000 rickshaws in a lot of 93,000 are real goondas (illegal rickshaw wallahs). What do you expect the Union to do?
Rickshaw drivers from across the city, in both suburbs refuse to take a passenger to his destination…
Because there is shortage. It is like demand and supply. You blame the Chief Minister for that. We are demanding 2,30,000 more permits. Isn’t demand and supply a principle everywhere? The same thing applies here too. I am not justifying their cause. If they harass, we don’t support them. But you are creating a situation for them to do this.
Another problem is fake rate cards. How does a passenger know if a rate card is genuine or not?
We totally discourage fake rate cards. Rate cards are given by the Regional Transport Office (RTO), they are stamped to prove they are authentic.
And it is not possible to forge the stamp?
No, it is not possible.
Is there any plan to upgrade autos like cabs have been upgraded?
No. Taxis have more options (models of cars), we don’t.
What happened to the plan to allow autos in Mumbai?
The idea behind not allowing autos in Mumbai was to protect the taxiwallahs’ business. If autos ply in Mumbai, then taxis will lose their business. We had collected several lakh signatures of people and submitted it to Government to allow autorickshaws to ply in Mumbai, but there has been no response from them yet. Some day or the other, we will go to court.
Rickshaw wallahs refuse to be a part of the queue outside railway stations because then they will have to go wherever the passenger wants to, and can’t refuse. What can be done about that?
Now that our immediate demands about rates and other issues are being resolved, we will, on our part, as a responsible Union, bring about some discipline among the rickshaw wallahs.
Is this because of a rickshaw mafia?
The mafia is not everywhere. We should adopt a queue system everywhere. We would like to appoint persons from the Rickshaw Union to ensure that everyone will pass through the queue system. We will try to bring such a system. I do agree that in certain areas, such as Bandra (E), there are a lot of mafias operating. When a complaint was lodged about it, RTO officers went there. All of them were physically assaulted. The RTO did not take any action. This is what is happening. I have suggested to the government to have two teams of 100 people to catch these mafias in both the Western and the Eastern suburbs. We are keen to stop it.
Hike for taxis
The minimum fare for the black-and-yellow cab has been hiked from Rs 17 to Rs 19 and it will be valid for the first 1.5 km, not 1.6 km as was the case earlier. Each additional kilometre will cost Rs 12.35 instead of Rs 10.30. For cool cabs, the minimum fare has been hiked to Rs 23 from Rs 21. Each additional kilometre will cost Rs 15.42 as opposed to the earlier Rs 13.12.
Lost your valuables?
If you leave any belonging behind in an autorickshaw, the Unions cannot do anything about it. They are not authorised to collect forgotten gadgets or bags. In fact, doing so amounts to a criminal act on their part. Hence, all you can do is file a complaint at a local police station and hope that the auto driver has also deposited your lost belongings at a police station. Though the driver is supposed to do that, not all of them do so.
What is Hakim Committee?
The government established a committee consisting of former union secretary PMA Hakim to look into the matter of fare hikes for autorickshaws and taxis. Earlier hikes were based only on rise in fuel prices, but the Hakim Committee also took into consideration the rise in the cost of living and the expenses on maintenance of the auto or taxi. The Committee then developed a formula so that a fare hike can be calculated annually and declared on May 1 every year.
Current fare: Rs 12 for first 1.5km, Rs 7.50 for subsequent 1km Fare from
October 11: Rs 15 for first 1.5km, R10 for subsequent 1km