Pune: Hundreds of passengers travelling in luxury buses to the city arrive at Sangamwadi Bridge and fall victim to the marketing strategies of autorickshaw drivers, who extract exorbitant amounts and ply without meter.
Over 300 buses, carrying between 30 and 50 passengers each, arrive at the three parking lots at Sangamwadi Bridge on a daily basis. While the buses start arriving as early as 5 am, there is barely any Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML) bus plying from Sangamwadi bus stop, thereby leaving the passengers at the mercy of autorickshaw drivers, who make the most of the opportunity and charge passengers extra.
Passengers carrying heavy luggage are the worst-hit, as they have no option but to hire an autorickshaw. App-based cab services, such as Ola and Uber, often refuse to come to the rescue of passengers in the early morning hours.
Sakal Times spent time at all three parking lots on the bridge and found that autorickshaw drivers regularly fleece passengers. They never agree to ply by meter, even when hapless passengers offer to pay ‘half return’.
“Meter nahi chalta yahan (The meter system doesn’t work here),” said a autorickshaw driver to Sachin Sharma (42), who had come to Pune from Indore and wanted to travel to Kothrud. The driver offered to take Sharma to Kothrud for Rs 175.
The driver told Sakal Times, “We are charging only Rs 20 to 25 extra above meter fare. We regularly ply without meter. After dropping passengers we return back without passengers, so we charge them half-return on the meter.”
Sandesh Deshmukh, a banker, arrived from Nanded and said he made it a point to request a friend to pick him up from the bridge. “I have been fleeced many times and I am fed up of this. They (autorickshaw drivers) don’t listen to reason and you have no option but to submit to their illegal demand. You won’t find any other mode of transport and you would have to walk for half-an-hour before you can get a bus or rickshaw which would ply by meter,” said Deshmukh.
Incidents of autorickshaw drivers getting aggressive and abusive are not rare. Often, the moment a passenger gets down from the bus, they pick up his /her bags and put them in the autorickshaw, ignoring the protests of the passenger. In some cases, when a passenger bargains and refuses to pay the fare, the autorickshaw driver picks up other passengers, who then unwillingly share a ride in the vehicle.
The situation at Shivajinagar ST stand was different. Most of the autorickshaw drivers are plying by meter from the autorickshaw stand. However, there are some who don’t wait at the stand and don’t ply by meter, especially early in the morning.
Rashmi Jadhav arrived by an ST bus from Jalgaon and was looking for an autorickshaw outside the ST stand.
She wanted to go to Swargate and the autorickshaw driver asked her for Rs 350, which she refused. The autorickshaw driver said she would have to pay at least Rs 300 to travel to Swargate, as none of the other autorickshaws would ply by meter. Jadhav, who was carrying two heavy bags, finally agreed to pay the exorbitant fare.