Hyderabad: The first sight welcoming people into the City at Secunderabad station is the long line of eager auto drivers ready to offer their services. If one thinks of this as Hyderabad’s famous hospitality, think again. The drivers here are part of the Secunderabad Prepaid Auto Service, which despite the many claims made about its services, is just another way of fleecing customers.
For the uninformed, the service was launched by Transport Minister Botsa Satyanarayana in 2011 with the aim of “ensuring passengers are not fleeced by auto drivers and providing safety.” What one does not realise is that they end up paying more than what is the actual meter fare. What then is the reason behind these high slab rates? Neither the police nor the auto unions can explain. The only saving grace is that you are provided with a police contact number and the fact that all these drivers are registered with the local police network (which fails to impress the public as many think this should be done regardless of prepaid services or slab rates.)
So, for an extra charge which can in no way be explainable, the public is provided a safe passage through the city with a reliable auto driver who gets a share out of the exorbitant prepaid taxi fare. But should not the police be ensuring safety of the people without any such schemes? Neither this, nor the fancy prepaid taxi service have had any great effect with the passengers at the railway station.
“Why would I want to travel in an auto that will charge me more than the normal rate, when I perfectly fine with travelling in one which runs on the correct meter fare, even though they are a rarity to find these days?”, says Subhash a commuter from Secunderabad to Jubilee Hills. One trip from Secunderabad to Jubilee Hills costs `114 as per the current meter fare calculation. But with the prepaid service slabs, the rate goes up to `135. How in any way is that comforting? Commissioner of Traffic Police CV Anand says, “ The slab rates may be higher but there are benefits in it too. For instance there is the question of passenger security which we have taken care of. And the problem of bargaining with the drivers is removed. It is not possible to have your cake and eat it at the same time.” But the commissioner’s wisdom failed in explaining the worth behind the extra surcharge.
Not only the police, even the auto unions themselves, cannot explain this. Amanullah Khan, a union leader said, “ The service will be good with prepaid autos. Moreover, the extra money is divided between the government and the auto drivers also. In fact we are planning on setting up this service in Kachiguda and Nampally stations also.”
Clearly, everyone is being taken for a “ride”. With another auto rate hike coming along, the ever demanding auto drivers are a happy lot. A vexed citizen said that an NGO was being planned only to fight the many hordes of errant auto drivers and the mysterious schemes such as the prepaid auto service. As to why there has been no action taken against auto’s running on spurious fuel mixtures or auto mafia pickets within the city, there is no answer.
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