Bengaluru auto drivers feel fuel pinch

Many auto drivers feel higher fares would only passengers towards Ola and Uber. DH FILE PHOTO

Despite being seriously hit by rising fuel prices, auto drivers in the city are divided over asking for an increase in fares that were last revised five years ago. 

A section of over two lakh auto drivers wants the transport department to revise the fares and also raise the issue in the Regional Transport Authority meeting while others fear that increased auto fare would only push passengers towards Ola and Uber. 

Auto Rickshaw Drivers Union (ARDU) general secretary D Rudramurthy said the Rs 25 base fare was fixed in December 2013 when the diesel price was below Rs 55 a litre. "Operation and maintenance costs have also skyrocketed with a hike in spare part prices," he added.

He, however, said the 25,000-strong union would not demand a revision in the fares. "Fortunately, most vehicles in our union have installed LPG kits. Despite increases in LPG price, it hasn't crossed the 2013 price," he said. 

Adarsh Auto Rickshaw Drivers Union general secretary C Sampath said they held several meetings and discussed requesting the government for a fare revision. 

"We thought the base fare should be increased from Rs 25 to (at least) Rs 30 and the per-kilometre fare should be Rs 15. Our members opposed the idea (of fare revision) and so we've dropped it for the time being," he said. 

Auto driver Murugesh N agrees that the Rs 53.77 per litre of LPG is closer to the 2013 levels, but he said the number of passengers hiring autos had dropped since the advent of app-based cabs. 

"I have joined both (Ola and Uber) companies but we don't get incentive like before. These days, half of the fuel is spent on searching for passengers. Even if the government hikes the fare, it won't help. I usually ask customers to pay a little more and they agree," he said. 

Asked about drivers refusing rides, Sampath and Rudramurthy said rising operating costs have made them picky. "They accept rides when they are sure that they'll find passengers at the other end," Sampath said. 

Rudramurthy said going electric may be the solution as the government is giving electricity for Rs 5 per unit. Though auto drivers can convert their vehicles into e-autos, it would cost Rs 1.74 lakh. "They can't afford to spend so much. Right now, we don't have the hope of seeing better days," he said.

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