Monday, July 15, 2024

Meter means nothing

CNG-run vehicles violating all rules
Hop on an auto-rickshaw, tell the driver where you want to go in the capital, go there and pay him what the meter says. This was probably the original idea behind installing meters in every CNG-run auto rickshaw in the capital. The authorities had presented city dwellers with a rosy picture indeed.
A few years down the line the picture is very different. Now, city dwellers go out to work every morning and virtually beg auto rickshaw drivers to take them to their destinations.
Paying them as per the meter is a thing of the past. Now, one must haggle before getting into an auto rickshaw and one may consider oneself lucky even if the fare charged is just double that of the meter.
A ride to Kakrail from the city’s Farmgate should cost no more than Tk 60 on a CNG-run auto rickshaw considering even the heavy traffic, when waiting charges apply.
Fakhrul Islam recently had to pay Tk 130 when he along with his family went to visit his relatives in Kakrail.
Selin Cruze had even worse experience.
The embroidery artisan, who came to Dhaka from Natore to supply goods to a chain store, had to pay Tk 300 to go to Indira Road from near Gabtoli.
“I tried a number of CNGs [auto rickshaws are usually called CNGs] for about half an hour, but they declined to take us. The one that agreed to take us asked for so much that it was almost equal to the bus fare from Natore to Dhaka,” she told The Daily Star.
One can find thousands of people telling stories of a similar nature or even worse in the capital.
However, drivers say they cannot afford to follow the meter and charge more from the passengers because the owners of their vehicles charge them Tk 800 to Tk 1,150 a day. The government-fixed charge is Tk 600 a day.
Vehicle owners, however, claim that as prices of lubricants, spares and other materials required to smoothly run three-wheelers go high, charging drivers Tk 600 a day is not feasible. It is difficult for both drivers and owners of three-wheelers to go by the rates fixed in the meters by the government.
The rates of the meters were fixed in January last year.
To know about the reality on the ground, The Daily Star correspondent spoke to 10 drivers in the first week of July. Eight of them said the owners charged Tk 800 a day from them. The remaining two said the owners charged Tk 1,150 from two drivers driving the vehicle on two shifts a day.
“My vehicle owner, who started his business with only two auto rickshaws ten years ago, is now a multi-millionaire,” claimed a driver without giving his name. “They make huge profits, and its burden is passed on the passengers,” he said, adding that rise in the cost of operation was not an issue.
Nazmul Hasan, General Secretary of Dhaka Metropolitan CNG Auto-Rickshaw Owners’ Association, however, said the owners charged Tk 700, not Tk 600.
When pointed out that it was still Tk 100 more than the fixed rate, he told The Daily Star, “It is because prices of all essentials and even spares have gone up.”
There are some 13,000 three-wheelers in the capital now but in 2003 there were more than 25,000 two-stroke baby taxies here (auto rickshaws which have been taken off the streets), he said, citing the shortage of auto rickshaws a reason for drivers taking advantage of the situation and charging high and being reluctant to take passengers where they want to go.
Ayubur Rahman, chairman of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), said BRTA regularly uses its mobile courts to check these kinds of irregularities on the streets of the capital. He claimed that passengers often lie to the court about whether they were going to pay according to the meter.
“Please write in your paper and ask passengers to speak the truth so that we can take action against drivers who are not following the rules,” he pleaded.
Zyma Islam, a university student, said she was without a ride very early in the morning after she had told police that the driver was not charging her by the meter.
“I had a lot of luggage with me as I had reached Dhaka from Chittagong that morning. On my way to Dhanmondi from the bus stop in Malibagh around 7:00am, police stopped the three-wheeler and asked if the driver was charging me by the meter. As I said no, police fined the driver which caused delays. There was an altercation between the policemen and the driver. I eventually had to find other means to get to Dhanmondi,” she said.
Asked about owners’ charging drivers more than the fixed Tk 600 a day, Ayubur said it was true.
On drivers’ and owners’ demand for re-fixing the meters with new rates, he said the government has been considering everything.
As per the fare structure, effective since January 16 last year, city dwellers are to pay Tk 25 for the first two kilometres (km). The charge for each subsequent km is Tk 7 and the waiting charge per minute is Tk 1.25.
Meanwhile, Sharifuzzaman Sharif, general secretary of Citizens’ Solidarity, said increasing the number of public transport, reducing cars and strong enforcement of traffic rules were necessary to discipline the transport system in the capital.

Image (above) caption: Thirteen auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers are made to stand on one leg holding their ears at the plinth of the Santrash Birodhi Raju sculpture on Dhaka University campus yesterday. Fed up with drivers not willing to go wherever the passengers want and their refusal to use the meter, a few university students gave them the punishment. Photo courtesy: Palash Khan

Courtesy of The Daily Star

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