Auto-rickshaw drivers in the city rarely follow the fixed timing and charge one-and-a-half amount even before 10 p.m.
Bengaluru: It has been a hectic Monday. You leave your office at 8:30 p.m., after working three hours overtime. You spot an auto-rickshaw and board it in a hurry. When you finally reach home after a 40-minute-long ride, the driver asks you to pay one-and-a-half times the amount shown on the fare meter. In that precise moment you realise that your Monday just got worse.
One-and-a-half, a popular slang in the city, means that you will have to pay one-and-a-half times more than the actual fare. So, you will have to pay Rs. 75 for a ride that usually costs Rs. 50.
Rakshitha M. takes an auto from her home to the nearest bus station every day. “Auto drivers rarely use the meter. From my home to the bus stop, an auto ride hardly costs Rs. 30, but all auto drivers demand at least Rs. 45. It is a bad situation to be in,” she said. “They say that they’ll have to return to their spot without ferrying a passenger and charge the extra amount,” she added.
Rakshitha is not alone. Almost all Bangaloreans have faced this problem. Officials at the Traffic Control Room said that they receive five to ten complaints per day regarding excess fares charged by auto drivers.
When the auto fares were revised in 2013, the government allowed auto drivers to charge one-and-a-half amount from passengers between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. But auto drivers rarely follow the timing and charge extra fare any time they wish.
Srinivas, an auto driver, said that he starts charging one-and-a-half after 9:30 p.m. “It depends on the drop location. If the drop location is far, then we charge extra. Otherwise, we use the meter,” he said. “Since passengers are usually not on time, we charge a waiting fee, and so the fare increases,” he added.
“We are clear about the timings. If you take a ride at 9:30 p.m., and we reach the destination at 10:05 p.m., then too, we will charge one and a half the amount, without considering the earlier negotiations,” auto driver Muniraj said. He added that he also charges one-and-a-half if more than three passengers want to take a ride together.
Jai Iyer, in his cartoon AUTOrickshawBOT, tried to add humour to the misery of passengers. The description of the cartoon reads, “In Bangalore auto-rickshaw parlance, ONEANDHAFF is a challenge the driver throws at you, signalling the start of a game of Grand Theft by Auto (rickshaw edition).” It goes on to say that, “The probability of you receiving this challenge is directly proportional to the font size of the word SUCKER on your face. For really huge font sizes, there’s also DUBBALMETER.”
Sampath C., general secretary of Adarsha Auto Association, explained that one-and-a-half charge is a way of compensating auto drivers for working overtime. “In a factory, if the worker works for more hours after his shift ends, they are paid Over Time (OT) amount in addition to their salaries. Auto drivers face a similar situation,” he said. He added that auto drivers are supposed to work from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., so when they ferry passengers past 10 p.m., it counts as overtime.
The fare for auto rides has not been updated for eight years now. Sampath said that this is one reason drivers demand extra money. “Fare revision is the need of the hour. Since the pandemic, the business has been poor,” he said. “We have asked the government to revise the fares. We are planning to hold a meeting to push for increasing the base fare to Rs. 30 and Rs. 15 for every subsequent kilometre,” he added.
At present, the base fare (fare for the first 1.9 kilometres) for auto rides is Rs. 25. The fare for every subsequent kilometre is Rs. 13.
Sampath suggested passengers urge auto drivers to charge according to the fixed metre charges and not give in to their demands. “They should raise a complaint with the traffic department if drivers flout rules,” he said.
K. V. Sudhakar, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Traffic, West Sub Division, said that on receiving complaints, they take action according to the law. “There is a separate fine for charging an extra fare, and we follow it strictly,” he said.
Rule 13(u) of the Karnataka Motor Vehicles Act, combined with Section 177 of the Motor Vehicles (MV) Act, prescribes a fine of Rs. 100 on drivers for breaking the law the first time, and Rs. 300 for every subsequent offence. The central government revised the MV Act in 2019 and increased the fine to Rs. 300 for the first offence, and Rs. 500 for subsequent offences. But the Karnataka Government did not implement the revised changes.
Despite provisions for registering complaints against auto drivers, passengers rarely do so. Rakshitha has never tried to register a complaint, nor have any of her friends who have faced the excess fare situation.
Prof. Ashish Verma, Associate Professor at Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Convenor of IISc Sustainable Transportation Lab, said that it is a tricky situation because we have to think about auto drivers’ livelihood and passengers’ convenience. “The enforcement has to be stricter and better. We need to have a quick customer redressal system,” he said. He suggested authorities be proactive and revise the fares keeping in mind the changing scenario.