At Pune Railway Station, which is an important entry point to the city, the passengers and commuters mostly have to depend on autorickshaws due to the paucity of any other mode of transport. But the experience is nothing short of “traumatising” as autorickshaw drivers not only behave arrogantly, but also refuse to come for short distances and fleece passengers for long-distance journeys.
If anyone comes out of the railway station, one has to inevitably face a large group of autorickshaw driver who try to woo the passengers, asking “kidhar jana hai? (where do you have to go?)”. If you try to ignore them, they will even follow you. But the real “trauma”, as many regular passengers describe it, lies ahead. If the passengers ask them to go to a place not far from the railway station, he or she gets a rude refusal. If the destination is far away, especially the suburbs of Pune, an arbitrary fare is quoted, many times even more than twice the actual fare.
Ravi Bhatambrekar, a senior citizen who regularly travels to Nagpur or Indore, says, “They behave like goons. When you get out, they charge in on you. But when we tell them to come to Sinhagad Road, they ask for Rs 400. Last time, we tried calling a cab service using an app. The cab driver refused to enter the station premises, saying the autorickshaw drivers here didn’t allow him to come in.
The scene at the back door of the Pune railway station is not different. The autorickshaw drivers behave the same, but at least cab driver come there. I can imagine the situation of those who can not use phone apps, specially the old people, those who can not afford cabs or the disabled and the ill. They must be getting fleeced. There is no other usable mode of transport from Pune station to the main parts of the city. The situation of PMPML buses is pathetic and there is no timetable to easily access the bus stand.”
The prepaid rickshaw facility, which was a partial solution to these issues, has been closed due to the ongoing construction work. Also, passengers say that when it was open, there never used to be more than 10 autorickshaws at the kiosk, a number hardly sufficient for the number of passengers who come out of the railway station every hour.
The experience of the commuters who get down at the Shivajinagar and Swargate bus stands, the other two entry points of the city, the situation is not different. A 45-year-old autorickshaw driver from Kothrud, who has been driving autos in the city for the last 18 years, said, “These autorickshaw drivers at bus stands and the railway station work in gangs. They have connections with local politicians and no one objects to them doing anything.
“The worst part is that they do not allow outside autorickshaw drivers near their queue. They hurl abuses and threaten to attack. I have seen them first refusing to ply old people or the ill by metered rates and then extorting money from them after they are left with no choice. I am not saying all drivers at these locations are like this, but this seems to be everyone’s experience.”
Mahadev Bote, an autorickshaw driver at the Pune station, however, refused all these allegations, saying, “It is not true. None of us behave rudely with passengers. It may happen once in a while because the passengers are rude and refuse to pay even Rs 20 extra. We never stop outside autorickshaws or cab drivers from entering the premises.”
Station Duty Officer at the Government Railway Police (GRP) station at Pune railway station said, “Yes, the issue is there. But we hardly get more than four to five complaints per month. It is also because the passengers who suffer from the problem are in a hurry and prefer not to file complaints. We urge passengers to come forward and file complaints about errant auto drivers.”