HUNDREDS of passengers, who travel in private buses to Pune from various parts of the state and get down at the Sangamwadi Bridge, get fleeced by autorickshaw drivers, who not only flatly refuse to ply by meter but also overcharge exorbitantly. Despite several complaints, helpless passengers continue to be taken for a ride as both the Regional Transport Office (RTO) as well as the Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML) turn a blind eye towards their plight.
Over 300 buses, carrying between 30 to 50 passengers, arrive at the three parking lots at Sangamwadi Bridge every day. While the buses start arriving as early as 5 am, barely any PMPML buses ply from the Sangamwadi bus stop to various locations in the city, leaving passengers at the mercy of autorickshaw drivers, who make the most of the opportunity to corner the passengers, to earn more.
Passengers carrying heavy luggage are the worst-hit, as they have no option but to hire an autorickshaw. App-based cab services, such as Ola and Uber, often refuse to come to the rescue of the passengers in the early morning hours.
Pune Newsline spent time at all three parking lots on the bridge and found that autorickshaw drivers regularly fleece the passengers. They never agree to ply by meter, even when hapless passengers offer to pay ‘half return’. “Meter nahi chalta yehan (The meter system doesn’t work here),” said a middle-aged autorickshaw driver to Suchita Jadhav, 23, who had come to Pune all the way from Nanded, and wanted to travel to Swargate.
He then offered to take Jadhav to Swargate for Rs 350, to which she retorted, “Even if you charge me half-return on the metre, the fare won’t cross Rs 150”. The autorickshaw driver said she would have to pay at least Rs 300 to travel to Swargate, as none of the other autorickshaws would ply by metre. Jadhav, who was carrying two heavy bags, finally agreed to pay the exorbitant fare.
Sandesh Deshmukh, a banker, said he always made it a point to request a friend to pick him up from the bridge. “I have been fleeced many times and I am fed up of this. They (autorickshaw drivers) don’t listen to reason and you have no option but to submit to their illegal demands… you won’t find any other mode of transport and you would have to walk for half-an-hour before you can get a bus or rickshaw which would ply by metre,” said Deshmukh.
In fact, incidents of autorickshaw drivers getting aggressive and even abusive are not rare. Many a times, the moment a passenger gets down from the bus, they pick up his/her bags and put them in the autorickshaw, ignoring the protests of the passenger.
In some cases, when a passenger bargains and refuses to pay the fare, the autorickshaw driver picks up other passengers, who then unwillingly share a ride in the vehicle. Pune Regional Transport Officer (RTO) Babasaheb Ajri and Deputy RTO Sanjay Raut were unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts to contact them.
PMPML spokesperson Subhash Gaikwad said the transport body was aware of the issue and would take appropriate action to ease the hassles faced by the passengers. “We are aware of it… but these passengers are in a peculiar situation. Most of them come from far-off districts, or from other states, and have heavy luggage with them. They prefer to travel in autorickshaws, rather than lugging their bags on to buses. Nevertheless, we will look into how we can help others who would like to travel by a PMPML bus,” said Gaikwad.