Coimbatore, July 24:
Taking an auto rickshaw to commute in the city is soon becoming a thing of the past as a number of call taxi firms have flooded the market here. The unpredictable fares charged by auto drivers in the city and, the affordable and quality service provided by taxi companies has forced even middle class families to switch to taxis for commuting.
“A trip from Coimbatore Central Railway Station to a destination like Vadavalli or Sai Baba Colony does not cost more than Rs. 150 – Rs. 180/- in a call taxi. But, one cannot get an autorickshaw to reach these destinations without paying Rs. 200/- minimum. Besides being comfortable, travelling in a taxi also affordable now,” says Vivek G, a resident of Vadavalli.
Among taxi services, there are luxury service providers with air-conditioned vehicles and regular service providers who use Maruti Omni cars and other basic model vehicles without air-conditioning charging a lesser price per kilometer.
“Besides these organized taxi services, there are hundreds of private taxis available at the railway station, near the Brookefields Mall etc. who provide service at a reasonable fare,” says Ms. Usha Ravi, a regular taxi user who used auto rickshaws to commute to work until recently.
Anand Palanisamy, managing director of Taxi Taxi, a luxury taxi service that was launched two years ago with a fleet of 150 vehicles in the city, points out that the market for luxury taxis is booming in textile city. “On an average, we receive 9000 calls within the city but are able to service only 20% of the customers. There is definitely a potential for another 1000 more taxis in Coimbatore alone,” he says. Anand charges customers Rs. 17/- per kilometer to travel in an air-conditioned car. “Anyone who follows this model can make good business here,” he says.
However, auto drivers in the city point out that while taxis have definitely made a dent in their market, they still get adequate customers mostly for shorter distances. “People prefer taxis only for travelling longer distances. The taxis also do not service shorter distances and it is difficult to manouvre in crowded areas like Ukkadam and Town Hall. People visiting these places still depend on autorickshaws,” said Madhu, an auto driver and a member of Autorickshaw Drivers’ Union.
Unless auto rickshaw drivers amend their ways and charge passengers nominal fares, the yellow three-wheelers could be running out of business soon in textile city as the flooding of taxi services indicates.
Auto rickshaw drivers pour out their woes, blame police and transport officials
While taxi service providers are upbeat about their future, members of the CITU-backed Coimbatore District Auto rickshaw Drivers Union point out that they too would be able to provide cheap and good service if the police and transport allow them to work freely without any harassment.
Speaking to this newspaper, general secretary of the union P. K. Sukumaran said that with the unpredictable petrol price hike, it was impossible for auto drivers to follow government fixed rates.
“We have been demanding the government to fix auto fares at a minimum fare of Rs.40/- and an additional Rs. 20/kilometer,” he said.Breaking into the details of the earnings of an auto driver, Sukumaran pointed out that on an average, an auto rickshaw plies for around 75 kilometers in a day that consumes three liters of petrol every day.
“For every 25 kilometers we travel, atleast 10 kilometers of the distance will be driven without passengers after dropping them in destinations which gives us 45 kilometers of effective commute that is charged,” he said.
If a price of Rs. 20/kilometer is charged, auto drivers make Rs. 900/- a day on an average. “If Rs. 300/- goes for petrol and oil charges, Rs. 150/- is spent for loan repayment and another Rs. 100/- spent on daily expenses such as lunch, breakfast etc., we will make only Rs. 350/day,” Mr. Sukumaran said. “It is lesser than the wages paid to a construction worker who gets around Rs. 400 to Rs. 500/- a day.”
However, the union still point out that they would use the meter if a fare price is charge subject to the assurance from police and transport department officials that they wouldn’t be harassed and fleeced extra.A total of 10,000 auto rickshaws are currently active in Coimbatore city and surrounding areas.