More and more Mumbaiites are becoming aware that taxi and auto drivers have no business refusing fare and have started acting upon it.
The spurt in the number of people supporting the Meter Jam campaign is one clear indication. On August 12, the campaign, launched by a group of advertising professionals in the city to not take taxis and autos for a day, had 40,000 supporters on its website. A week later, on August 19, this figure has jumped to around 45,000.
Traffic police officers said earlier, few commuters were aware that they could complain against errant drivers and were also reluctant to do so. "The scenario has changed now. Our official website is flooded with complaints from commuters," said Nandkumar Chougule, deputy commissioner of police (traffic).
A cabbie or auto driver can be fined up to Rs 200 and his licence suspended.
As complaints rise, the action taken against errant drivers is also on the rise. In April 2008, Hindustan Times had conducted a campaign against errant drivers who refused to ply short distances, An HT reporter had, over a period of four days, asked 40 drivers to ply short distances. HT had then lodged online complaints against the 31 drivers who refused. Four months after the complaints were lodged, the traffic police had fined just four of them.
The figures are better now. In 2010, up to July, the traffic police received more than 8,000 complaints about errant taxi and auto drivers. Officials have already penalised 4,248 cab drivers and 3,200 auto-rickshaw drivers. In 2009, the traffic police had fined 4,833 taxi drivers and 5,710 auto drivers for the offence.
"Refusing fare is a serious violation and the driver can be charged under the Maharashtra Motor Vehicle Ruling, 1989. But it is up to the Regional Transport Office (RTO) to cancel the offender’s permit. The traffic police can only fine the drivers, confiscate the licence and submit it to the RTO," said Chougule.
"My first day in Mumbai was unforgettable. I had to spend two hours outside Andheri station to get an auto to go to my cousin’s house, which is near the Andheri Sports Complex. I have got used to it now," said Hemant Rathod (24), who came to the city from Bikaner to work in a private firm.