Mumbai: 8,000 rogue auto drivers pulled up in five-month drive

Updated: Sep 16, 2019, 07:07 IST | Diwakar Sharma, Suraj Ojha | Mumbai

Figures from RTO crackdown that followed mid-day's campaign in February are out: 8,000 fined, 6,500 found plying without licence or badge, and 700 meters seized

RTO officials posed as commuters to nab errant drivers across the city in the past six months
RTO officials posed as commuters to nab errant drivers across the city in the past six months

In a massive crackdown against illegal auto-rickshaw drivers plying across the city, a sustained Regional Transport Office (RTO) drive caught more than 8,000 errant auto-rickshaw drivers from February 26 to July 31. The RTO began action after mid-day published a series of stories on the unruly auto-rickshaw drivers across the city, flouting traffic rules left, right and centre.

RTO commissioner Shekhar Channe told mid-day that action against defiant auto-rickshaw drivers will continue until they all fall in line. "We have issued memos to 8,050 drivers from February to July. Of these, 6,434 drivers were plying on city roads without a valid driving licence or a badge. We have issued notices to the owners of 3,650 such vehicles and the process is ongoing," Channe told mid-day.

RTO officials have also suspended the permit of 899 out of 3,650 auto-rickshaw drivers. A senior RTO official told mid-day that most of the "defiant drivers are youngsters." While the RTO has also seized many auto-rickshaws, the lack of space has led them to confiscated the meters of others — 695 of them so far.

While many autos were seized for breaking rules, lack of space has led officials to confiscate meters of others
While many autos were seized for breaking rules, lack of space has led officials to confiscate meters of others

No takers for short rides

RTO officials have formed teams of 25 clerical staff members and 10 officers as flying squads. Clerical staff members, posing as customers were sent out on the roads to nail errant drivers by seeking rides for a minimum fare of around R30-40. "A total of 955 drivers refused to ply commuters for short distances. It was shocking to learn that most of them were youngsters and refused rides from right under the RTO headquarters in Bandra," said a traffic officer adding, "Our intention is not to vehemently take repressive action but to take stringent action against errant drivers."

In a bid to effectively camouflage their identity, the team members would keep changing their locations. "We realised that drivers mostly denied to ply commuters at RTO headquarters, Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Bandra Terminus, Andheri and Borivli station areas," said an officer.

Diverse rejection reasons

The most common reason behind drivers denying rides was citing nature's call, mealtime or fuel refill. "A few of them cited odd reasons saying they had to go to a hospital for a medical emergency or attend a birthday celebration. One of them even submitted his grandson's birth certificate to prove his reason. But we had to book him as he had violated RTO rule," the officer added.

Shekhar Channe
Shekhar Channe

"During our crackdown around LTT premises, we caught one auto-rickshaw driver who was soliciting passengers but when we caught him, he flashed his platform ticket saying he had come to drop his family members and was planning to ply commuters while returning," the officer said, adding that barely five per cent of the errant drivers caught were above the age of 60 years. Around 30 per cent of them were between 50-60 year old and the rest were youngsters.

RTO rules

Explaining the RTO rules, an officer said, "If the meter is flagged down, it indicates that the auto-rickshaw is hired. Commuters need to understand that if the meter is not turned upwards, the auto-rickshaw is not meant to be hired. And if the meter is half-down, it indicates that the auto-rickshaw is not available to be hired for the driver's personal reasons. Here he is not breaking the law and attending to his personal work."

New sealing solution

After issuing memos, it generally takes around 1.5 months to complete the process of seizing a vehicle. During the crackdown, the RTO officials have seized 158 vehicles but due to the acute space crunch, the meters of these vehicles were plucked out. "But we were astonished to see that a few auto-rickshaws were on the roads without a meter. We request commuters not to hire such auto-rickshaws as they violate RTO rules and can compromise on the passengers' safety too," the officer said.

RTO officials are now considering sealing fuel tanks of errant auto-rickshaws. "After plucking out the meter, we are coming up with a solution to seal the fuel tank so that they cannot refill their fuel. If they are found tampered, we will take strict action against violators," the officer concluded.

3,650
No. of auto-rickshaw owners who have been sent notices

6,434
No. of drivers caught without a driving licence or badge

What can commuters do?

Commuters who are at the receiving end of such difficult behaviour by errant auto-rickshaw drivers can complain to the Mumbai traffic police on Twitter, or Whatsapp helpline number 8454999999. However, in most cases, drivers refuse to confess to refusing rides or overcharging once caught, and commuters, without any evidence, are left helpless. To avoid this, commuters can video record such incidents to ensure fool-proof evidence against errant drivers.

Meter rules

Meter down: Auto-rickshaw is hired
Meter up: Auto-rickshaw available for hiring
Meter half-down: Auto-rickshaw unavailable for hiring

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