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Thursday, July 26, 2012

FOR A FARE RIDE Errant auto drivers stay a step ahead of RTO


Meters Tampered Despite Stricter Punishments, Steeper Fines


    The rampant tampering of autorickshaw meters in Mumbai shows how errant drivers always manage to stay a step ahead of law enforcing authorities. Eleven months of checking by the RTO and stiffer punishments made no difference at all, drivers still tamper meters for a quick buck. 
    "Whenever we had drives against meter tampering, especially between September and December last year and in June-July, the cartel of notorious drivers changed their area of operation to hoodwink authorities," said an RTO official. For example, those who oper
ated in Andheri would shift to Borivli or Bandra if there were checks in Andheri. Sources said the drivers had their own network of informants who would "tip them off " about RTO checks. "It is sometimes difficult to nab the bigger offenders," an official said. 
    Drivers often bribe a few traffic cops collectively so they can haggle with commuters outside auto stands, sources said. These drivers take more than three passengers and charge "fixed" inflated fares. 
    Earlier this year, when fines were doubled, most drivers rigged mechanical meters and made at least Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 a day. A driver, who did not wish to be named, said, "I 
have a tampered meter, but we need money to pay the fines. We keep Rs 4,000 aside and continue earning more. If caught, we simply pay the fine and are back on the road next day." 
    To curb this menace, e-meters were made mandatory for existing autos. The drivers then identified the loophole in the new rule: "Only those autos who come for fitness tests will switch to e-meters." Before the rule could be implemented from April 1, thousands of autos got fitness tests done in March so the next test would be mandatory only in March 2013. Till that time, these drivers can continue with old meters and fleece passengers. 
    Some drivers who installed e-meters bribed meter mechan
ics to tamper the gadgets even after the RTO sealed them as "tamper proof". The transport commissioner then issued orders that FIRs be registered against drivers and they be arrested. But arrests too made no difference as one could easily be out on bail. Cancelling permits seems to be the only big deterrent, officials said. 
    Shridhar Nayak, a commuter, said, "The RTO should catch offenders and cancel permits. If they are thrown out of business, they will be pinched where it hurts the most." Activist Shirish Deshpande from Mumbai Grahak Panchayat said, "The cheats don't deserve to be self employed if they fleece passengers." 

Decision on Hakim panel report soon 
The state government may decide on the Hakim committee report on fares for autos and taxis this weekend. A final draft of the report will be submitted to government on Friday. The report will have a new formula for future fare hikes for autos and taxis. Sources say there could be at least a Rs 2-hike in fares soon. TNN



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