Errant autorickshaw drivers in the city have proved that where there's a will, there's a way. Following repeated drives by the Regional Transport Offices (RTO) against tampered meters, they have found a new way to fleece commuters.
Unfortunately for them, the latest drive against errant auto drivers has made the RTO wise to this technique.
Earlier, auto drivers would change the gearwheel in the meter box, making the meter run fast. This enabled them to charge commuters 30-40% more than the tariff. Under the new tactic, they tamper gearwheels in the gear adaptor - a device between the engine and the meter. "Autos have two kinds of engines - two stroke and four stroke. If the gear wheels for a four-stroke engine are fixed in a two-stroke auto, the meter runs faster," said an automobile expert.
However, with this technique, they can charge only 10-20% more than the tariff. "Smaller gear wheels, which would enable the meter to run even faster, are not available," he added. However, the advantage is that it is more difficult for commuters to detect that they are being overcharged.
An official from the Wadala RTO, requesting anonymity, said that around 80% of the tampered meters seized over Monday and Tuesday were tampered using the new technique.
The Wadala RTO resumed its drive against tampered meters on Monday, armed with new equipment that helps detect on the spot if meters have been tampered with. It is this gadget that helped them detect the new fleecing technique.
Earlier, officials would have to travel in the auto and check the meter readings, to realise that the meter had been tampered. Since the new tampering tactic enables the auto drivers to overcharge by only 10-20%, it is difficult to detect that the amount being charged for a given distance is unusually high.
The RTO official also said that instances of meter tampering had reduced considerably, owing to the frequent drives. On Day One of the drive, 20 cases of meter tampering were registered by the RTO. On Tuesday, Day Two, 10 cases were registered.
Reacting to RTO drive, Sharad Rao, president of the Mumbai Autorickshawmen's Union, demanded that action be taken on the centres where meters are tampered. "If these are closed down, where will the auto meters be tampered?" Rao said. He added that the unions would not obstruct the RTO drive.