Why auto and taxi mafias are rampant at three of busiest suburban train stations in Mumbai

Updated: Feb 12, 2019, 09:59 IST | Faizan Khan, Suraj Ojha and Samiullah Khan | Mumbai

Three of the busiest train stations in the suburbs - LTT, Bandra and Borivli - have virtually no prepaid system allegedly due to lack of contractors

While autos and taxis that refuse passengers line up right outside the station.
While autos and taxis that refuse passengers line up right outside the station.

With pre-paid taxi counters and stands either out of operation or missing altogether at major railway terminuses in the city's suburbs, there's nothing to stop auto and taxi drivers from taking commuters for a ride. mid-day found this to be the case particularly at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT), Bandra Terminus and Borivli station - all notorious for the auto and taxi mafia fleecing passengers.

While there is a pre-paid taxi stand at Bandra Terminus, mid-day discovered it has been shut for the last six months, after the contractor refused to renew the services. This, allegedly, is also due to pressure from the auto and taxi mafia.

The prepaid taxi booth outside Bandra Terminus is non-operational...
The prepaid taxi booth outside Bandra Terminus is non-operational...

According to members of the taxi union, the prepaid taxi service shut down because many passengers were unaware of the facility, and instead chose to call for an Ola or Uber to save money. But these cabs, too, are no longer an option because of strong opposition from the taxi unions. Due to traffic jams and altercations with angry unions, Ola and Uber cabs can sometimes also take a long time to arrive at the station. As a result, many passengers give in to whatever exorbitant demands the local taximen and auto drivers make.

Taxis and autos even park illegally on the Bandra Terminus flyover, waiting for passengers. Pics/Shadab Khan
Taxis and autos even park illegally on the Bandra Terminus flyover, waiting for passengers. Pics/Shadab Khan

Bandra terminus also has specific lanes where autos and kaali-peelis are supposed to wait for passengers, but the drivers have abandoned this space. Instead, they crowd right at the station's exit, or even on the platforms, waiting to bombard unsuspecting travellers as soon as they alight from trains. Many of these cabbies and autowallahs don't bother to wear their uniform either, and often charge double or more than the regular tariff. mid-day's reporter tried to notify the authorities of the issue, but found no one at the stationmaster's office.

Meanwhile, Ramakant Pandey, president of the Chalak Malak Sena at Bandra East said, "The prepaid taxi contractor stopped functioning here at Bandra terminus due heavy losses. Even our business has gone down due to private cabs [like Ola, Uber]. Despite this, we have instructed our union members to follow the tariff rules."

Passengers being refused at outside LTT
Passengers being refused at outside LTT

Back to breaking rules at LTT
Just a day after the traffic police caught and fined over 100 auto drivers at LTT for plying without their uniform and for harassing passengers at the terminus, the errant autowallahs were back at it on Sunday. mid-day spotted several auto and taxi drivers in civil clothes at the station. A railway official said, "It is true that drivers approach commuters at the station platform. Sometimes we receive complaints, which are forwarded to the Railway Protection Force. We can't do much else."

Auto drivers not in uniform
Auto drivers not in uniform

While this station has a working pre-paid stand, it hardly gets any business. Rizwan Khan, who works at the prepaid booth, said, "A maximum of 20 to 25 people book taxis from here in a day. Sometimes it's as less as four to five taxi bookings. I see other taxi and auto drivers looting passengers, but can't do anything about it."

Passenger Manju Chhabra arguing with an auto driver outside Borivli station
Passenger Manju Chhabra arguing with an auto driver outside Borivli station

No pre-paid taxi service at Borivli
Borivli station does not even have a pre-paid taxi service, but it does have taxi and auto stands on both the east and west exits from the station. Despite this, passengers face difficulties every day. Most auto and taxi drivers fix their own fare instead of going by meter. If a passenger insists on paying by meter, many of the drivers refused the fare. Even if one driver (not from the local union) agrees to take a passengers by meter or for a reasonable fare, other drivers gherao the vehicle, resulting in a quarrel.

Moreover, the union drivers don't even allow Ola and Uber cabs within 200 metres of the station. Ranjeet Singh, Mumbai president of the Dhadak Morcha Union, said, "Ola, Uber taxis have had a bad effect on our business. That is why we prevent them from picking up passengers within 200 meters of the station."

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He also claimed that the taxi union drivers do not refuse fares when asked to go by meter. "We do not deny those who want to go by the meter. We also want the government to start a prepaid service here, like at the airport." Borivli RPF Inspector Surendra Chaudhary said, "We haven't received such complaints from any commuters. If we do, we will act accordingly."

Smita Jain

'Drivers enter compartments even before the train stops'
Voices slug
Smita Jain, passenger from Jaisalmer
Even before our train halted at Bandra terminus, auto and taxi drivers had managed to enter the compartment. Now I am waiting with my kids while my husband haggles with the drivers. Why can't they just ply by meter?'

Anand Ahuja, passenger from Ahmedabad
'Earlier there was a pre-paid taxi stand, but it is no longer functioning. Now the drivers charge us double. From here to Ulwe, it should cost hardly R700, but they ask for Rs 1,500. Ola or Uber will take 20-30 minutes to arrive, so we have no choice but to agree to the demands'

Manju Chhabra, passenger from Ahmedabad
'We were waiting at Borivli station's taxi stand, but most drivers refused to go by meter. They demanded double of what Ola and Uber were charging. One cabbie agreed to take us, but others came to fight with him. Only after a long argument did we manage to leave'

Amit Sangoi, daily commuter
'The Borivli West taxi stand situated has merely become a sharing taxi stand. Only the union taxis and autos ply here. Most of them refuse short-distance fares'

Shaikh Mujibur Rehman

Commuters speak
Shaikh Mujibur Rehman, passenger at LTT
'I wanted to go to Andheri SEEPZ and the maximum fare for that destination is Rs 170 to Rs 200. But here, no one seems ready to go by meter and they are demanding Rs 250 to ply. This is a very serious issue and authorities need to think about us'

Rizwan Shaikh

Rizwan Shaikh, passenger at LTT
'I wanted to go Sakinaka. For that, the drivers here are demanding Rs 300. If I go by meter, it will hardly take Rs 100 to Rs 150, but they are demanding any fare they want. People are neither seen following the law nor fearing cops'

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