Use of metres in auto-rickshaw fading from public mind

CNG-run auto-rickshaw drivers are taking advantage of decreased public transport in the capitalProthom Alo File Photo

Sahana Sattar, a Dhaka city dweller, was looking for a CNG-run auto-rickshaw last Thursday morning to go to Moghbazar Dilu Road from her residence in Dakshin Paikpara, Mirpur of the capital. After several auto-rickshaw drivers refused to go to Moghbazar, one of them agreed to go but asked for a fare of Tk 350. In the end, she left for her destination after negotiating the fare at Tk 300.

The distance from Paikpara to Dilu Road is 7.8 kilometres. As per the rate fixed by the government, the fare for this distance, including counting 20 minutes of traffic jam, could be around Tk 190. The passenger had to pay nearly Tk 110 more than the approximate original fare as the auto-rickshaw driver asked for the fare on his own without following the metre system.

This fare-anarchy of CNG-run auto-rickshaw is going on in the whole Dhaka city. The rule is the auto-rickshaws will ply following the metre system to the desired destination of the passenger. But the drivers have kept the passengers hostage in the capital. If they don’t like the destination, they don’t pick up passengers. Even if the passenger is picked up, it is not at the metered fare, but at a higher rate. There is no initiative by the government agencies to prevent this anarchy. As a result, the passengers are not getting rid of this cycle of harassment.

According to Section 35 (3) of the Road Transport Act, the auto-rickshaw driver shall be obliged to go to any destination within the route permit area following the metre system. They cannot claim or collect additional fare than the amount shown on the metre. Violation of this is punishable by imprisonment for a term not more than six months or a fine not exceeding Tk 50,000 or both.

The auto-rickshaw drivers say that they cannot run on metres as the fare of CNG-run auto-rickshaws was last fixed eight years ago. Now the cost of living, including the price of daily necessities, has increased a lot. Owners are charging the drivers more than the amount set by the government.

The drivers also alleged that ‘private’ auto-rickshaws, which are registered for personal use in the capital, pick and drop passengers. Apart from this, they have to pay money to the traffic police members in different places of the capital, which is an additional cost.

Belayet Hossain, an auto-rickshaw driver, was waiting for passengers at Banglamotor intersection in the capital. He told Prothom Alo, “I need to pay Tk 1100 to the auto-rickshaw owner, gas cost is Tk 400 while Tk 300 is required for my food and other expenses. I can think of my income after earning this Tk 1,800 to meet expenses. If I use the metre, I won’t have more than Tk 200 to 300 every day. That is why we negotiate going out of the government set fare.”

The current fare rates for CNG-run auto-rickshaws in Dhaka are effective from 1 November in 2015. According to the existing rate, the fare for the first 2 kms is Tk. 40. After that, the fare is Tk 12 per km and Tk 2 for every minute of waiting (delay, traffic jam and signal). And the driver pays Tk 900 to the owners for every auto-rickshaw daily.

Barkatullah, president of Dhaka Metropolitan CNG-run Auto-Rickshaw Traders & Owners Association, also acknowledged the fact of taking additional money from the drivers. He told Prothom Alo, “This is not a secret that the owners are charging the drivers more nowadays. Everyone including the police and BRTA knows this. It is not possible to run an auto-rickshaw if the everyday deposit is less than Tk 1,100. The price of goods including vehicle parts has increased two-three times.

‘Govt doesn’t seem to have any monitoring body’

In several meetings with the stakeholders, the driver-owners promised to run auto-rickshaws on metres, but it did not materialise. Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) joint commissioner (traffic) Abu Raihan Muhammad Saleh told Prothom Alo that action is taken if there are complaints of not using the metre and charging extra fare. It would be convenient for the police to take action if a passenger files a specific complaint by mentioning the number of the auto-rickshaw.

Four years ago, the Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Association conducted a survey and said that 98 per cent of the auto-rickshaws plying in Dhaka operate on negotiation. The drivers who used the metre used to ask for Tk 50 to 100 more in each case. But nowadays running on the metre is very rare. Passengers have also accepted this as a general rule.

Salman Chayan, an official at a university in the capital, told Prothom Alo, “I can’t remember the last time I went in an auto-rickshaw on metre. I have forgotten that there is something called a metre in auto-rickshaws. I pay at least Tk 100 more every time I go on an auto-rickshaw. The government does not seem to have any organisation in charge to monitor these things.

Bangladesh Road Transport Authority’s (BRTA) initiative to stop auto-rickshaws that do not run on metre and for charging extra fares is not visible.

However, director (enforcement) of the organisation Mohammad Abdur Razzak told Prothom Alo that BRTA mobile courts are being operated regularly in different areas of the capital with instructions given to put importance to stopping auto-rickshaws that do not ply using metres and charge extra fares.

He also claimed that auto-rickshaws are being fined if they are found to be not complying with the government directives. Mohammad Abdur Razzak, however, could not inform Prothom Alo in detail the number of cases filed and fines realised.

Saidur Rahman, executive director of the Road Safety Foundation, believes that the indifference of the government agencies is to blame for the anarchy over fare in auto-rickshaws.

He told Prothom Alo that a syndicate has been formed centering the auto-rickshaws. Owners take more money from the drivers who, out of compulsion, ply on negotiation to collect the money. It is the passengers who are the victims.

He insisted it was necessary to form a task-force with stakeholders including the government agencies and civic organisations to stop the anarchy created over auto-rickshaw fare.

* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza