I was in Chennai for a few days earlier this week.
While Chennai city is much better organized than many other Indian cities with a more controlled traffic flow (Chennai people do not agree with this view – they say that it is getting worse every day !), one thing that the city has suffered for long is the woefully inadequate public transportation.
A tourist has to invariably depend upon the auto-rickshaws which are ubiquitous on Chennai roads. Buses are over crowded and the metro system is yet to be commissioned. The old “open-door” train system is as bad and over crowded as it is in Mumbai, so use of that mode of transportation by anyone new in Chennai is not to be expected.
So, finally one has to depend on the auto-rickshaws, more easily called as “autos”. They all have meters installed but no auto driver would clock his meter and agree to get paid on what the meter shows. In a brazen display of arrogance, the auto drivers would demand any kind of price for any distance within the city (the shorter the distance, the higher the per unit rate charged), right under the very nose of a traffic policeman.
I normally use a mix of rented cars and autos while in Chennai depending on my work load and the distances to be travelled. For a short, point-to-point travel, autos are the best and the most quickly available mode of transport. But given that the auto drivers would charge you an arbitrary rate which is justifiable only to them, the consumer has no option but to negotiate it down a bit. A better than 10% reduction of the arbitrary rate is usually not feasible.
I asked one auto driver why was this the case only in Chennai, when most other “metro” or large cities have the benefit of metered autos. He replied saying that most autos in Chennai are owned by the police or the politicians who would not allow the meter system to be implemented.
Tamil Nadu, the state of which Chennai is the capital city, has a good reputation amongst both domestic and foreign industrial investors. The state would do well to fix this problem once and for all, like what the Mumbai city did a few months ago – the Mumbai administration forcibly implemented the electronic meter system on all autos and taxis and punished those who refused to fix the meters by confiscating their vehicles. There was lots of protests, and consumers were affected for a few days when the autos went on strikes. But slowly the message started to sink in, and all consumers were happy when the system was firmly implemented with an iron hand.
Government is elected to implement policies and tough decisions and people expect the same. I hope the Tamil Nadu government would eventually see the rationale for enforcing metering on autos and taxis which have become the transportation life lines for thousands of people in the city.
25th January 2013