The fact that several autorickshaw drivers often take passengers for a royal ride is not exactly news to the authorities concerned. Yet, a quick resolution of the issue seems like a distant dream. While the Regional Transport Authority (RTO) and Traffic Police passed the buck, the union of rickshaw drivers in Pune — Rickshaw Panchayat — blamed the ‘black sheep’ among autorickshaw drivers for such unscrupulous deeds.
As part of the Fare Unfair series, Pune Newsline had visited Sangamwadi, Bhumkar Chowk and Pune station to chronicle how autorickshaw drivers sought exorbitantly high fares and didn’t allow app-based aggregator cabs to pick up passengers from these points. Responding to the series, Deputy Regional Transport Officer Sanjay Raut said RTO officials were aware of the menace and did take action against autorickshaw drivers.
However, senior officials of the RTO admitted that manpower shortage was a major issue and it prevented them from stepping up their action against autorickshaw drivers. “There are only 10 officers who are entrusted with revenue generation, road safety and enforcement of law. Naturally, revenue generation is prioratised,” said the officer.
Raut said local police should also intervene in areas where autorickshaw drivers create a law and order situation. Last year, the RTO had received 429 complaints against autorickshaw drivers from various parts of the city. Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic Control Branch) Ashok Morale said, “It is an issue that needs a multi-pronged approach. The action against errant autorickshaw drivers has to be taken by both police and the RTO… we will also have to take the autorickshaw drivers’ organisations into confidence.”
He added, “The Traffic Control branch has conducted dedicated drives against autorickshaw drivers who deny service or overcharge passengers. We will keep conducting such drives in the future, and for longer periods, to ensure that they have an impact. Such actions should also be taken by the RTO on the issues they are concerned with… we will also have to talk to the various organisations representing driver….”
Taking a note of the series of articles in Pune Newsline, Morale said, “Like you have taken note of the issue, we will focus on the issue in the days to come.” Nitin Pawar, convenor of Rickshaw Panchayat, said instances of autorickshaw drivers fleecing customers, who get down at the bus stops early in the morning, are not new. He said the Panchayat considered these drivers as ‘criminal elements’, and had often unequivocally spoken out against them.
“We are aware of the spots where customers are fleeced by the drivers… it’s a law and order matter and it’s the responsibility of police as well as the RTO to take strict action… I suspect there’s a nexus between these drivers and local police as there has been no action against them. If the RTO and police wanted, the fleecing would have stopped in a day. We, at the Rickshaw Panchayat, have never defended such cheats and we want them reined in, as this tiny group defames the entire autorickshaw driver community, majority of whom are honest and amiable,” said Pawar.