Bhopal was among the first batch selected for the Smart City initiative this year and while water and power supply, sanitation and solid waste management systems are some of the highlights of the initiative, residents feel that there is a dire need to improve the public transportation system in the city.
Auto rickshaws have been the most viable mode of public transport for customized commuting in Bhopal with radio taxis having made an appearance only recently. They are also the best option for short haul travelling within the narrow lanes of the old city.
However, many feel conned by auto rickshaw drivers who refuse to ferry commuters, don’t agree to go by meter reading, charge exorbitant amount or take longer routes. Some even complain of tampered meters.
The district administration and the police have a history of failed campaigns in trying to get autos to run by meter.
The administration tried to rein in auto drivers in 2011 by asking around 4,216 auto rickshaw drivers here to install error-free meters and get them approved by the department of weights and measures.
The then collector had said that only autos with verified meters will get a permit to drive in the city.
However, these drives failed miserablly as the trend to harass commuters continues.
“No auto driver agrees to travel by meter. One knows that they are over charging but what is the option? The police don’t help either,” said, Priyal Bafna, a resident of Kohefiza.
As per the present government approved fare structure, the base fare for autos is Rs 20 and Rs 10 per km is charged for every subsequent km.
“The distance from Peer Gate to New Market would not be more than 4 km but autos charge more than Rs 100 for the distance,” said Chetna Jain, a resident of Bhopal.
While some auto rickshaw drivers have formed associations headed by political leaders, others pay protection money to the police to get a free hand to ply without meters.
Additional District Magistrate (ADM) BS Jamod said, “We carry out inspections from time to time and will again send a squad for inspection.”
Auto drivers have their own logic for not using the meter. “Commuters themselves do not want to travel by meter because they suspect that meters have been tampered with. They settle for a fare with us instead,” said Poonamchand Singh, an auto rickshaw driver.
The arrival of radio taxis in the city has brought hope for many as they run on meter and in many cases there is not much difference between the fare charged by these taxis and the excessive fares demanded by auto drivers.
“We want to streamline the traffic practices here. In the coming model of smart city, we not only want metros and good buses but we are making efforts to make the already existing public transport strong. We have launched a service called ‘traffic warden on WhatsApp.’ People can send their complaints and suggestions on our WhatsApp number — 7587602055. Based on their complaints, a fine would be imposed on the auto drivers for not plying by meter,” said Additional SP (traffic)