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Auto-cracy at station, again
- Prepaid service takes a back seat in capital

Sanjay Sinha, an engineer with a private construction company, was asked to pay Rs 250 for an auto ride to his destination, barely 4km from Ranchi railway station, on Thursday

Deoghar resident Deepak Sharma, travelling 12km to Dipatoli Cantonment area from the station, was charged Rs 150 more on Friday morning

The rogues of Ranchi station are back — and back with a vengeance.

Illegal and unscrupulous auto-rickshaws have savagely buried the much-touted prepaid service, taking full advantage of shoddy monitoring and winter haze to fleece passengers at will.

The drivers, who do not have prepaid permit, mob passengers from the waiting area of the station to ensure they never reach the prepaid counter, which again has questionable service during extremely cold morning and evening hours.

“Last evening, when I reached here from Patna with my family, I had a tough time finding an auto to Ashoknagar. The drivers were demanding Rs 250 for such a little distance. I have come to Ranchi before and have never paid more than Rs 150,” Sinha, who finally booked a rickshaw for Rs 50, said.

Sharma, on the other hand, had to haggle and ride. “I reached the capital around 5am and had to pay Rs 350 to reach my destination. It was bone-numbing cold outside and I could not negotiate for long. But, if I am not wrong, the reasonable fare to the cantonment is not more than Rs 200,” he said.

The ambitious prepaid auto service at Ranchi station was launched on Independence Day last year, with 200 three-wheelers being issued permits. Ironically, railway passengers travelling to various parts of the city never really had freedom from haggle-and-ride.

General secretary of Ranchi Railway Station Petrol-Fuelled Auto-rickshaw Union Mohammed Tabrez blamed lack of administrative vigil for the menace.

“If the district administration decided to run prepaid autos from the station, it should have also monitored the service. Unfortunately, it didn’t bother, while autos without prepaid permits made hay. They hardly let a passenger come up to the prepaid kiosk. The matter was brought to the notice of the authorities concerned, but nothing has been done to rein in the illegal autos,” Tabrez said.

The union leader pointed out that the skewed system was even prompting several autos, with valid prepaid permits, go the rogue way to earn a decent sum at the end of the day. “When autos without permits whisk away your passengers, what more can you do? It is a question of livelihood after all,” said a driver enrolled in the prepaid scheme.

Deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey admitted the problem and promised steps to redress it.

“The prepaid service was outsourced to a private party last year, but the station transport system has not improved. We are receiving regular complaints and will look into the matter,” he said.

The Chotanagpur Taxi Evam Tempo Chalak Sangh, managed by one Shamim Akhtar, runs the prepaid show. He admitted that at present 146 autos were listed as prepaid, but less than 50 plied on designated routes. “For many routes, the rates decided by the administration are less than what was demanded by us. So, drivers hesitate to follow rules,” he said.

Officer-in-charge (traffic) K.K. Jha echoed Choubey and said steps would be taken to restrict operation of autos without prepaid permits at the railway station.

He insisted that there was “nothing wrong with the system” though. “To the best of my knowledge, 60 prepaid autos are booked every day. We want to improve on the number and will soon seize autos if they ply from station without prepaid permits,” he said.

How can autos be disciplined?

Tell ttkhand@abpmail.com