Auto-rickshaws are one of the most popular modes of transport in India as they are comfortable and very affordable. Unfortunately, auto-rickshaws have come under the microscope recently with auto-rickshaws drivers being accused of fleecing customers. Commuters using this mode of transport regularly get harassed by drivers trying to over-charge them, refusing to go to the desired destination or travelling over short distances. In most of Indian states, except a few like Kolkata where share auto-rickshaws are still around, this kind of harassment has become a norm.
These three-wheelers are supposed to be meter-operated, however most drivers to not adhere to the charges indicated on the meter. In all the major cities such as Delhi, Bangalore or Chennai drivers demand additional money on top of the meter rate. At times they have been known to flatly refuse to run on meter and demand an arbitrary rate. Travelling at night involves costs as invariably drivers demand night charge in addition to the fare. Airports and railway stations are the most vulnerable points for passengers getting fleeced. Passengers coming for the first time in any state are easy targets. There are pre-paid counters for auto-rickshaws but long queues often lead commuters to take running rickshaws.
Under section 177 of the Motor Vehicle Act of India these kinds of deeds are punishable by law. Not only can the drivers be charged with fines, their driving permits can also be withdrawn. Despite a strong law drivers still resort to malpractices with élan. This situation has put added pressure on the government. Constant complaints have now, however, prompted the police to crack the whip on these fleecing auto drivers. Surprise checks are conducted by the authorities at sensitive points and auto drivers caught without functioning meters or overcharging are punished immediately. This was the case recently at Indira Gandhi International Airport, where police arrested such drivers and lodged FIRs against them.
Vigilance and strong actions from the government can only solve this problem. More pre-paid counters need to be set up, not only at airports or railway stations but at various parts of cities. The efficient management of the booths should also be ensured for ease of usage. To prevent commuters from being fleeced by drivers, there must be a strict enforcement of travelling with functioning meters and where a pre-paid service is not available. Night patrolling by the police should also be undertaken so that passengers do not have to put up with offending drivers. Initiatives to introduce share auto-rickshaws should also be undertaken so that fares can be kept within check. Many believe it is the responsibility of the government to provide its citizens and visitors with a comfortable and secure travel experience and therefore, the authorities must be seen to be taking action.