Supriya Sule episode puts spotlight on commuter woes ahead of polls

Updated: Sep 16, 2019, 07:19 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

NCP leader and MP Supriya Sule, who was last week bullied by a cab driver outside Dadar railway station, reminded authorities to act against them

Supriya Sule, the NCP leader and MP from Baramati
Supriya Sule, the NCP leader and MP from Baramati

Dharmendra JoreMumbai commuters owe Supriya Sule one. Last Thursday, the Baramati MP went wild when a con cabbie entered the train bogie, blocked her way and bullied her to board his vehicle from Dadar railway station. He pestered the politician shamelessly and even shot a selfie with her despite constant refusal and protest against the harassment. The MP told the entire world about the misbehaviour by tweeting from her personal handle. The railway authorities, the police and transport department officials were unprecedentedly quick in booking the cabbie under various charges.

It isn't Sule's harassment story alone. Thousands of commuters who alight at the long-distance and suburban platforms of major railways stations of the city face it every day. Taxi drivers, mostly not wearing uniforms, and their plain-clothed agents tout for taxi service, right from the moment you gather your luggage and line up to step down from the coach. They chase passengers, intimidate them when refused. When asked to run by the meter, they tell others taxi drivers to not ferry the passenger. The cons enjoy a free run on the platforms while the police and railways staff turn a blind eye to the well-organised charade.

Common commuters face worse

The MP faced a partial ordeal because she might have used her own car to travel by road to her next destination. The common commuters' woes aren't just about touting or pestering on platforms. The ordeal intensifies as commuters try to hail a taxi. It's a tiring task and very expensive if one succeeds. If you have access to the app taxi service, the unavailability and surge pricing may deter you from booking online. The kaali-peeli cabbies make most of the hapless traveller. They have uncanny expertise in identifying the gullible, mostly the visitors. That does not mean that the locals don't fall for their fleecing ways.

Cabbies refuse short distance. If they agree, they refuse to ply by the meter, the distance notwithstanding. And if you tell them you are aware of the approximate fare because you stay in Mumbai, they ask you to find some other cabbie, who also refuses fare. Once fed up, you strike a deal for a certain amount and then the cabbies demand exorbitant extra fare for the luggage you carry. It doesn't matter if there is a taxi stand or not, or if you have travelled on a long distance train or on a suburban local train - the story doesn't change, be it cabs or auto-rickshaws.

Dadar's bad reputation

One of the most crowded stations where a number of long-distance trains stop is Dadar where maximum commuters prefer alighting. Here, cabbies - one of whom Sule confronted - don't just demand exorbitantly high fares, they also resort to criminal ways for fleecing innocent passengers. Stories of how people were threatened into paying more once they started the trip but the accused cannot be nailed without proof. We don't assume that the police and railway authorities aren't aware of a well-organised syndicate that operates from Dadar and other stations in Mumbai.

Sule validly asked the authorities whether touting was permitted under the law. She said if it was allowed, then it cannot be and should not be permitted within railway stations or airports, and only at designated taxi stands. We doubt if the authorities, who haven't been able to check the menace that proliferates under their noses, have a satisfying response for the MP. We wonder whether Mumbai's elected representatives, now busy in the run-up to the Assembly polls, would look into the dogging issue. If they were to take it up, we would have to establish first that they travel on the trains and hail a taxi or auto-rickshaw for the commute.

City commuters demand voluntary action from the police and transport department that know the rampant malpractices. Officials shouldn't wait for an MP to complain to gather their investigative wits and legal acumen. They shouldn't fear politicians who lead taxi and auto-rickshaw unions as long as the troubled commuters stand up with them in every right action they take against the criminals.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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