After inviting the ire of Mumbaiites by resorting to two strikes in a fortnight, autorickshaw drivers have now realised the need for immediate damage control.
In a bid to soothe frayed tempers, the Mumbai Auto Rickshawmen's Union has devised a public relations campaign called Saujanya Saptah, which will begin on November 14.
Under this, auto drivers will discuss their troubles with commuters by distributing pamphlets and putting up placards at autorickshaw stands across the city. Auto drivers will also personally approach commuter groups to discuss their side of the story.
Auto drivers held the city to ransom by going on a strike twice in two weeks - the first to oppose the Andheri Regional Transport Office's (RTO) crackdown on autorickshaws using tampered meters and the subsequent to demand a hike in fare. Following the latest strike, some political parties attacked autorickshaws in the suburbs and island city.
Shashank Rao, assistant general secretary, Mumbai Auto Rickshawmen's Union, said, "Every organisation has right to protest. Similarly, we protested to raise our issues. However, we have been wrongly portrayed as miscreants. Auto drivers are poor people. We, therefore, want to directly share our problems with commuters."
The union plans to raise the issue of increased expenditure and the limited income of auto drivers with the public. They also want to draw attention to the corruption drivers face when dealing with traffic and RTO officials.
DM Gosavi, secretary of the union, said, "The amount auto drivers pay as bribe is unaccounted for, but is a significant 10% of their income. We want people to know why we are demanding a fare hike."
"We are planning to call auto drivers from different suburbs for separate sessions, where they will be trained in basic customer etiquette," Rao added.
Commuters are sceptical about the union's new venture. "We only expect auto drivers to be fair. We want them to stop refusing fares," said Ghanshyam Sonawane, a resident of Goregaon (East).
Praful Vora, coordinator of India Against Corruption, the organisation that has been actively backing commuters, said, "We will
support the campaign but auto drivers should stop holding people to ransom by going on repeated strikes."