The convenience of public transport in Mumbai is fast becoming a thing of the past.
The other day, I got off at Andheri station. Outside, I went up to an auto, and then another and then another and yet another with what I thought was a reasonable request: “Versova chalenge?” All of the drivers said no. My utterance of Versova was met with expressions of disdain usually seen on the faces of snooty Bandra and South Mumbai residents when someone says “Andheri”.
Was today a strike? I wondered. When my smartphone assured me it wasn’t, I harnessed my inner Popeye and stomped up to auto number five and got in. The driver didn’t even bother to turn around.
“Where do you want to go?” he asked.
“Anywhere you’ll go,” I replied. It was meant to be a combination of belligerence and sarcasm except in Hindi, “Jahaan aap chaloge” sounds like a dialogue from a 1960s’ Bollywood romantic film. However, I wasn’t lowering my lashes and looking away (biting lower lip: optional). I locked my glare with the driver’s raised-eyebrow glance, via the rear view mirror.
“Nahin jaana,” he said.
“Nahin jaana,” he repeated, enunciating clearly, presumably for my benefit.
“I’m not getting off,” I informed him.
He grinned, shrugged and looked away from the mirror image. I had been dismissed. I stayed put, ready to prove my credentials of belonging (albeit nominally) to a state governed by Mamata Banerjee. After five minutes, however, it struck me that I don’t know my way around Andheri. What if this man decided he was going to try his hand at being an Anurag Kashyap hero and vroomed off to introduce me to the gangs of Chakala or Saki Naka? I decided it was a wiser idea for this womaniya to slink out of the auto and walk in what I hoped was the direction of Versova.
Last week, PMA Hakim, who was entrusted with the task of coming up with a fare formula that would be agreeable to the unions of auto and taxi drivers, submitted his one-man committee’s report. The Hakim Committee suggests the following:
• The minimum fare for both auto-rickshaws and taxis should be increased to 1.5 times the basic fare for a kilometre (that’s a hike of Rs3).
• The minimum distance should be 1.5kms (it’s 1.6 kms at the moment).
• Late-night charges should be raised to 30 per cent from 25 per cent.
• Fares should be considered for revision annually.
These recommendations aren’t final but the taxi drivers’ union has expressed its approval. The auto-rickshaw unions are a separate matter. They’re apparently going on strike on Monday, September 3 and Wednesday, September 5 because they want more auto-rickshaw permits to be issued. Their other demand is that the minimum fare should apply for two kilometres and be between Rs24-Rs27, double the current figure of Rs12. What I want to know is, have either Hakim or Sharad Rao, the leader of Mumbai’s largest auto-rickshaw union, tried to get an auto from Andheri station? Will raising the starting fare to Rs24 make auto drivers more inclined towards accepting passengers?
It’s not just Andheri, mind you. To my experience, this mulish insouciance towards potential passengers is seen in cabbies and auto-rickshaw drivers all over Mumbai. For example, this past week, when trying to get a cab to go from Lower Parel to Bandra, I received the following responses:
“Will you stop anywhere along the way?”
“Only if you take the Sea Link.”
“Where in Bandra?”
One of the aspects of life in Mumbai that people have cheered for over the decades is public transport. Whatever your travel budget, Mumbai would have a reasonably convenient means of public transport to get you from place to place. You might get crushed, but you’d get to where you wanted to reach. Considering how Mumbai’s traffic is already apocalyptic and the BMC doesn’t seem to really believe in pavements, it’s enormously freeing to be able to rely on public transport and not have to manoeuvre a car around Mumbai. Want to go from Breach Candy to Kemp’s Corner? Hop in a cab. Need to go to Linking Road from 15th Road Khar? Slide into an auto. Not any more. In the past few years, auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers have become noticeably less co-operative and more disgruntled.
I’m not unsympathetic to the fact that fares need to be hiked—particularly those of auto-rickshaws—given the rising costs of living. Most of us who use taxis and auto-rickshaws can absorb the increased cost. However, I have a bone to pick with the idea of shelling out more than the present fare while auto-rickshaw and cab drivers choose customers as though they’re picking out fresh fish at a wet market. There have been hikes in auto-rickshaw and taxi fares over the past couple of years but this hasn’t changed the attitude of the drivers. Once they took pride in being professional, now there’s more pride in being able to tell the customer that they can stuff their Rs 12; the taxi or auto will go where the driver wants to.
I haven’t been able to find the URL but apparently the Hakim Committee report is online, and the transport department has invited responses to it, so that final recommendations can be made. If you find it and feel the pain of the regular user of public transport, please submit suggestions and post the link here. Perhaps someone in the administration—the Social Service branch perhaps, now that we all have alcohol permits?—will help those of us who rely on public transport.
Deepanjana Pal is a journalist and the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma. She is currently the books editor at DNA.Tags: auto-rickshaws, Hakim Committee, Taxis, The Definite Article, Transport