Auto-rickshaws are a popular mode of transport, and nowadays, expensive! In metro cities, auto-rickshaws run on meter, while in small towns, auto-drivers run the meter. Some auto-drivers demand auto fare based on the auto-fare chart given to them by the RTO, and the others don’t believe in following such rules. And that is why, in Belgaum, most people avoid traveling in auto-rickshaws. Added to which, there are no auto meters installed in auto-rickshaws. And God only knows, on what basis does auto-driver demands the fare.

And to discover what even the God is unaware of, a campaign on the auto meter began in Belgaum. This was started by Uday Kinjawadekar (CEO, All About Belgaum). The campaign “Belgaum mein auto ka meter down karo” began on Facebook, which has around 1670 members today.

When A K Hemadri, RTO, Public Relations Officer was questioned on the same issue he said, “In the year 2007, auto-drivers had installed auto meters. After every 2 kms, Rs. 12 was charged, as auto fare. But then, due to some reason we had to deinstall the auto meter. It was then, that we produced fare charts to auto-drivers, they had to demand auto fares based on this fare chart. But, we have to revise the auto fares now. And we will soon call for a meeting with the DC and decide about auto meter and the fares. We are thinking of keeping the auto fare, same as Bangalore. But we have not taken any decision, yet.”

Lokadarshan speaks to Uday Kinjawadekar on the same issue.

Excerpts from the interview:

1) What motivated you to start ‘Belgaum mein auto ka meter down karo’ campaign?

Motivation? I hate to travel by Auto. I really don’t like to bargain. I had written many stories regarding the same and most people had similar complaints. This time I thought lets go the crux of the matter and see who is to be blamed the authorities or the Auto walas.

2) How has been the response?

I have been on Social media for 4 years now and I understand the basics of this. Now we have about 1000+ members on the group which are building day after day. But not all comment, and not all participate in the debates but yes, they follow each update carefully.

3) Has anybody from the RTO responded to the campaign on facebook.?

Well, I had tried to mail the RTO officials some time back, before this group started, but all mails bounced back. We will try and contact them through the correct mediums from which we can get answers, which also includes RTI.

4) Apart from Belgaum city not having an auto meter. What are the other laws that are not being regulated in Belgaum, which have come under your observation?

There could be many and as an individual. I may be at fault at so many times. But smoking in public should be stopped and this rule is hardly implemented here.

5) Did Belgaum ever have auto meter, anytime in the past?

Well, in 2007, the pre paid auto were started. Fares were fixed at that time. I remember once a local daily had tried to get the matter solved by getting both, the RTO and Auto drivers together. But due to politics may be nothing really worked out.

6) How are you planning to take this campaign ahead?

We have just begun. We plan to file RTI, so that, we know exactly who is at fault. Nothing is going to change overnight, it will take years.

7) Have you spoken to the auto drivers union? If not, are you planning to speak to them to bring in awareness? If you have spoken, what do they have to say?

At this point of time we haven’t spoken to the autos drivers as we want to ascertain who is wrong here first. Because if there is a law all have to follow it, so we must first understand is there a LAW (fares fixed) in this case. We will definitely try and get in their say.

8) Do you think people in Belgaum are cheated by auto drivers because there is no meter?

Yes, they are cheated on every front. Take this for example; from Sanyukta Maharashtra Chowk (khade bazar) to CBT Rs.40. The distance is hardly 1.3kms. One could bargain hard and settle for 35 or even 30, if lucky. But that is, even more than a fare charged in Bangalore. We have no minimum fares, “jo mooh main aya who bol diya

Especially, women and children who have to go to 1st gate, the driver looks at family first and then says Rs. 80. One has no choice but to take the auto and shell Rs.80 for a distance of 3 kms.

9) I’m sure you are aware that, most auto drivers in Bangalore get their meters tampered. Do you think this could also happen to Belgaum?

This is a hypothetical question. I have uploaded images of autos with no meters and permit numbers standing in auto stands. What else does one want?

10) In the present situation, when there are no meters. On what basis do auto drivers demand auto fare from the people?

This is best answered by the drivers themselves as to what is basis of their calculation may be you could ask them this question and share it on our group.

11) What according to you could be the reason for not having a meter in Belgaum?

One major reason is the permit violation of the 5-6 seater rickshaws or huadas, as they are called. They have a permit to work beyond the city limits but they work within the city limits. Bad roads is one more major hurdle, the auto-drivers give as an excuse. And they need to be reminded that even the common man uses the same roads and they also bear same expenses in case of repairs. Hike of fuel prices is now a very normal and every now and then they would complain about this. I am sure many drivers would say it would be better if FARES are fixed. There won’t be fights with passengers. Also, if fares are fixed the income of the drivers will definitely improve over the years, as more and more people would choose to travel in autos, due to the fixed fares.