An Un”fare” Hike

We all in India know how the private transport operators hold us to ransom, time and again, to increase their fares. The most recent incident being that of autorickshaw(hereafter referred to as auto) drivers in mumbai threatening to go on strike, if base fares are not increased from rs. 9 to rs. 15. This is been in the backdrop of the governments decision to hike the CNG prices by rs. 6. I, along with many other commuters, feel that this demand is very steep, even though I do not require to use their service often. Lets analyse the situation.

1.  It a commonly known fact that CNG, as against petrol, is a very efficient and clean fuel. The government has pushed for this fuel owing to its low cost and cleaner exhaust. The cost of running a vehicle, especially a transport vehicle, is very less on CNG as compared to petrol and diesel. Even then the base fares for auto drivers running on CNG are same as those running on petrol. An increase in CNG price translates to very few paisa additional running cost per kilometer.

2.  While I was discussing this topic with my brother, he informed me about a particular conversation he had with an auto driver. As per the figures that the driver gave out, the returns on running an auto on petrol were about 125 rs. per litre of petrol(petrol costs rs. 50 in Mumbai). Compared to that the returns on running an auto on CNG are rs. 175 on an average per kg of CNG(CNG costs rs. 25 per kg). So clearly there are huge margins in operating an auto on CNG. But the auto driver revealed that one of their “leaders” was pushing for this hike, even though others were against. Infact, one member of the union has suggested that the base fares, instead of being increased, be reduced to rs. 6, so that more commuters would be attracted to auto. But the member was silenced then and there, reminding of his state of origin(this proves how deeply this state divide is rooted even in the “united” union).  Though I cannot vouch for the statements made by the auto driver, I feel these calculations are quite accurate.

3. While discussing this issue, the subject of transport in singapore came up, and my brother informed me that the government has levied heavy taxes on private vehicles, so that the commuters opt for MRT(mass rapid transit) or public buses. I would suggest that the India government goes ahead and agrees with the demands of the auto union. But they should also control the number of autos plying on the roads. Also the government should do something to the number of autos stationary at their designated stands, which normally are located just outside the suburban railways. A control in their population can very easily make some road for public buses which the commuters will prefer to autos, due to less cost and easy availibility.

4. Let me recite the problems we had at our place with transportation. We had a very good state transport bus service plying in our area, which is around 5 km from suburban train station. But around 10 years back, people started getting restless waiting for a bus, which started getting delayed time and again. Many times there were incidents of buses being cancelled due to one reason or the other and people got fed up. Then one by one, commuters started to opt for the auto service, which was rare initially. But seeing the growing demand in our area, more and more auto service was given to us. The fares were kept exactly same as the bus fares, and people, with a blind on their eyes, were attracted to it. Within few years, the buses has very few patrons, and ultimately many services were stopped, citing non feasibility. Our social leaders, went just short of kneeling in front of the commuters, in request to continue using buses. But ultimately, all the buses to our routes were stopped. Now was the chance for auto drivers to get their wishes. First of all the fares were increased for day journey, with and additional charge for night drive. Drivers started taking 5 passengers( three on the back seat, and two on both sides of the driver) to start the journey. Then came the six seater autos, which we call Dum Dum, which ran on diesel. The drivers wouldn’t start if the auto was not filled with 10 passangers(8 in the seats meant for 6 and 2 on the left of the driver). People with broader bottoms, and even pregnant ladies were made to sit in very small and uncomfortable seats. There was no use complaining, else the driver would ask the commuter to get down, and make seat for some one who would not complain. All this while, the RTO chose to turn blinds eye to these broken rules, with a wet hand for the traffic police stationed near the junctions. Finally again after years of struggle by our social activists, the buses, though limited in number, have started plying in our area. Men, who had opted for motor bikes, due to harrasement at the hands of auto drivers, have stopped using this costly transport and chose the red and yellow bus, provided by the government of maharashtra. We expect higher number of commuters this monsoon.

Though this story diverted me from the original point, I feel that its important for commuters to use public transport, hence I narrated it. All in all, the fare hike demand is irrational. A question to the union leaders. If you demand for a hike in fares, when fuel prices are hiked, do you reduce the fares when the fuel prices go down? I don’t know. I didn’t see the fares going down, when the petrol prices went down from the high of rs. 51 per lire to rs. 46 per litre.

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