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Autocracy strikes commuters
17000 vehicles stay off roads, overcrowded buses add to woes

Autorickshaws stay off roads during a 12-hour strike in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday. Pictures by Ashwinee Pati

Bhubaneswar, Oct. 16: Around 17,000 autorickshaws kept off the capital’s roads today inconveniencing thousands of people. The protesters were demanding a fare hike.

Ananya Mallick, an engineering student waited for a city bus at Master Canteen Square for nearly an hour. Though three buses passed by, she could not get on the overloaded vehicles and finally had to hire a cycle-rickshaw to reach her destination.

The city buses failed to cope with the situation. Almost all the 70 city buses plying in Bhubaneswar were too crowded leaving a large number of commuters high and dry. Though cycle-rickshaws did try to share the load, they were too few and too slow to be of much use. “Almost all the city buses that I came across were jam-packed. There was no way I could have got onto any of them. So I walked,” said Gokul Patnaik, who walked from AG Square to State Museum near Kalpana Square this morning.

The worst sufferers were students and office goers.

“I realised the impact of the autorickshaw strike only when I saw city buses full with passengers. I even had an argument with a bus driver who was trying to pick up people despite the vehicle being overloaded,” said Priya Patnaik, who works for a private firm.

The situation was completely chaotic during the peak hours from 9.30am to 11am. The bus operators were forced to take passengers beyond their capacity. “Though a bus can accommodate around 80 passengers at a time, today around 120 passengers were on the buses at a time,” said Bijay Behera, a city bus operator.

As many as 54,000 commuters depend on the city bus service and nearly one lakh people travel by autorickshaws everyday. The city buses cover nine routes and have about 350 stoppages while the autorickshaws have a much wider reach.

The autorickshaw operators, who are demanding fare hike in view of the increase in fuel prices, had warned in advance about the strike that was led by the Bhubaneswar Autorickshaw Mahasangh.

“The fare was last revised in June 2008. Since then, the price of petrol and diesel has been hiked nearly 10 times. Whenever prices go up, we approach the state government to revise the fares, but to no avail,” said general secretary of the association Padman Kumar Samal.

Sources said most autorickshaws run on diesel. “Since the last hike, every autorickshaw operator has been incurring a loss of Rs 100 everyday,” said Samal.

However, following an assurance by the transport commissioner that their demands would be considered, the autorickshaw drivers have decided not to hike the fares till the puja vacations are over. “The transport commissioner has promised to look into our demands. So, we have decided to wait,” said Samal.

In September, the state government had revised city bus fares increasing them by Re 1 for destinations less than 12km. The maximum fare was increased to Rs 37 from Rs 32.