Most commuters who travel by autos have little awareness of their rights and few of them bother to exercise those rights. This in combination with the lack of a strong mechanism to punish errant auto drivers has tilted the balance in favour of drivers.
The result is an increasing anger and hostility among citizens against auto drivers.
“I was not aware that a driver could be penalised for not being polite. I always make it a point to thank drivers for dropping me, but some of them are unnecessarily rude,” said Nirav Manek, who lives in Malad and travels to the station by auto to get to his office, digital media agency, at Nariman Point.
“I didn’t know that after midnight one had to pay 25% over the actual fare so I always ended up paying whatever amount the driver demanded,” said Nivedita Pillai, who stays in Malad and is employed with a web portal whose office is located in Andheri (east). “Till recently I also had no idea that drivers could be fined for refusing fares. I will use the helpline to complain against them as they frequently refuse fares.”
More than one lakh autos that ply in the suburbs, and both the Road Transport Authority (RTA) and the traffic police find it tough to keep a check on all of them.
Officials say they find it hard to track down auto drivers once they receive a complaint. “Many times the auto drivers have changed their addresses and not informed the Regional Transport Office (RTO) about it. So we are able to get hold of them only when they come to the RTO to get their fitness certificate, which is an annual periodic procedure,” said a senior RTO official, on condition of anonymity.
VN More, transport commissioner, said: “Even if we cannot take immediate action, we have started compiling a record of complaints received from commuters every day. Sooner or later, the auto driver is made to pay for the complaints received against him.”
While the RTO has launched a toll free number (1-800-22-0110) for commuter complaints, you can complain online on the traffic police website with details such as the auto registration number, the date and time and the details of the complaint.
Auto unions prefer to portray drivers as hapless victims of police corruption and exploitation. Sharad Rao, general secretary of the Mumbai Auto Rickshawmen’s Union, the biggest auto union in the city with 25,000 members, said: “The drivers are also suffering. The complaints against them are often used to harass them. There is no simple mechanism to contest a charge, but to go to court. Drivers prefer paying fine even if they are not guilty.”