The strike is off, for now. But a significant hike in rickshaw and taxi fares seems inevitable.
A day after the price of compressed natural gas (CNG) was raised by 30 per cent — from about Rs 24.65 per kg to Rs 31.47 — the state government announced that it will meet auto and taxi union representatives on Tuesday to discuss a tariff hike.
The unions, which had been threatening to go off the streets if fares were not raised immediately, have now agreed to defer any action till the government meeting — but have warned of an immediate, indefinite stir if the meeting does not end with the announcement of a significant rise in all tariffs.
While taximen are demanding that the minimum fare be raised from Rs 14 to Rs 16 for black-and-yellow cabs, and from Rs 9 to Rs 11 for each subsequent kilometre, automen are demanding a hike of Rs 6 in the minimum fare.
This would take the base fare from Rs 9 to Rs 15.
“In fact,” said Sharad Rao, general secretary of the Mumbai Automen’s Union, “the minimum taxi fare should also be Rs 20, not Rs 16.”
Rao added that operators were not demanding a hike only because of the rise in CNG prices.
“We have been asking for a revision for six years,” he said. “In that time, the government has hiked CNG prices five times, but not permitted a single hike in tariff.”
Meanwhile, autorickshaw and taxi drivers have already begun charging more than the current fare.
“We have no choice,” said Yashwant Chavan, a taxi owner and driver for 18 years. “Inflation has been eating into our earnings for six years. Spare parts and maintenance costs have gone up steadily. Now, with the fuel price hike, we will simply not be able to operate our vehicles unless we charge more.”
Stuck in a lose-lose situation, commuters remained anxious and angry on Thursday.
“We are easy targets for such blackmail,” said Reetika Subramanian(21), a Chembur-resident working in Churchgate.
Added Anil Parmar (45), a jewellery shop owner and Andheri resident: “If autos now charge so much, how will the common man travel? I took a rickshaw from my house to Oshiwara. The driver took Rs 70, saying the fare had gone up. When I tried to argue, he sped off, leaving me standing on the road, wondering why I had ended up paying twice as much.”
Meanwhile, Bandra resident Puja Punjabi, who works at CST, said she has decided to walk to the station from now on.
“Rs 15 is too much for minimum fare,” she said. “A Re 1 or Rs 2 hike is reasonable, but Rs 6 at once is too much.”