Auto drivers in the city are generally considered to have their own way of going about things. They decide where they want to go and, for the most part, they decide how much they will leave their passengers poorer by. In any case, the meter system is not followed in the city.

However, it is not every day that one comes across the auto driver’s version of the story of ever-soaring fares.

D. Shekhar, an auto driver operating in Kotturpuram, said, “It is not our fault. We have our families to take care of. The old meter rates will not cover even the petrol price.”

The meter down rate was fixed at Rs 14 and per kilometre charge fixed at Rs 6 way back in 2007. This was when a litre of petrol cost Rs 49. Today the price hovers around Rs 72.

The pre-monsoon showers added to the misery of the auto drivers. Passengers often force them to drive across waterlogged areas. This is a potential risk for their vehicles and substantial expenditure is incurred by the drivers if something goes wrong.

N. Damodaran, an auto driver in the busy Chennai Central Station area stated very clearly, “I don’t go to areas like Velachery in the rains even if the passenger agrees to pay more.”

Another problem area for auto drivers is Anna Nagar where traffic jams get worse once it rains. So, if you are going there, be prepared to shell out at least Rs 50-60 more than the usual fare.

Shekhar justified this hike by pointing out that autos moving at a slow speed consume more petrol than usual.

Most auto drivers I spoke to said there was no problem going to most areas in the city, except a few, provided the passengers were ready to pay extra and at times be open to sharing the auto with another passenger.

In a way, the auto drivers too are stuck in a position where they don’t have much choice. They have families to provide for and basic expenditures they need to take care of.

Residents of the city must encourage protest movements that aim to seek the revision of meter fares. It is time we looked at the situation from the other side.

(Aslesha studies at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.)

(This article was published on December 16, 2012)
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