Disciplining auto drivers needs a paradigm shift

Published : DNA

One feature that has united the country with its consistency is atrocious behaviour of autorickshaw drivers.

It has tormented senior citizens, working women, students and the middle-class over decades. Whether the experience in Bangalore is the worst is a matter of debate.

The traffic police penalising autorickshaw drivers has not made any perceptible change just as rounding up sex workers has not succeeded in eliminating prostitution.

Fines are treated as a professional hazard by both these groups and they work extra to recover the fine paid. It’s a bad analogy, indeed. But mere penalising autorickshaw drivers for offences like refusal to ply, overcharging and harassing commuters have surprising similarities.

Most of them recover the fine by fleecing passengers the next day and harassment continues unabated, instead of getting mitigated.

Without abdicating the responsibility of traffic police to take punitive action (read penalty), the reality is that pecuniary penalty has failed to bring about any sustainable positive transformation in their conduct. Instead of traffic police sorting out these problems on the streets, many of which degenerate into scuffles and protests by drivers or an “understanding” (read corruption), there is a need for a paradigm shift in the strategy.

Traffic police receive complaints every day and they are faithfully converted into cases and violation notices issued. This sounds good, but it’s not, as eight out of 10 autorickshaws are not with the owners or the registered address as per RTO records.

Considering each auto comes to the RTO to get a permit and driving licence renewal every three years, incorrect database of address and ownership baffles all. Besides insisting on these updates in the database, RTOs could walk an extra mile by insisting on clearing all pending offences before renewing permits and driving licences. Failure to do so should lead to seizure of the vehicle.

Forcing the auto off the road is a more effective deterrent than merely penalising the driver. Seizure, even for a few days, really hurts them as the punishment cannot be passed on to helpless commuters.

One also needs to delve into the genesis of autorickshaw drivers’ behaviour before painting the entire community as criminals. Many of them are victims of exploitation by owners, unions, enforcement agencies and money-lenders. And they dutifully pass it on to commuters.

Why can’t the meters be calibrated to measure distance alone with publicly declared multiplying factor linked to price of fuel in real-time? Why should there be a few months’ gap between rise in fuel cost and rise in fare? Such delays give drivers the legitimacy to loot commuters. After all, they are not an organised industry that can absorb the increase in raw material prices by improving efficiency. They survive day to day.

Autorickshaw drivers, on their part, need to understand that with the induction of the Metro services, their heyday is limited unless they learn the art of making honest living out of short-distance hauls.

Come 2014, when the Metro runs from Peenya to Kanakapura and Mysore Road to Byappanhalli, people will heave a sigh of relief.

The steady increase in availability of taxis and diminishing difference between fares of auto and taxis is another challenge for them.

The unions that control 1 lakh autos and 3 lakh-odd drivers are just not ready to see the writing on the wall. Unions that claim to fight for their cause should be busy setting up call centres and fitting GPS devices on autos. Using simple technology to minimise dry-runs (when an auto runs empty in search of passengers) can improve their income legitimately.

All stakeholders need to work together to achieve this goal by effecting a paradigm shift in their approach or else the traffic police will be eternally booking cases without any perceptible change in the attitude and behaviour of autorickshaw drivers.

The writer is additional director general of police (police computer wing) and commissioner (traffic and road safety); The views expressed are personal 

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