Midnight hike shocked cabbies

Bangalore’s cab drivers and passengers got a shock of their life when all of a sudden personnel at the toll plaza close to Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) started asking them to pay Rs 115 for a round ticket when a few minutes before midnight Saturday it was just Rs 30.

There was a sudden hue and cry. Drivers got down from cars and started yelling at the booth staff and the police personnel standing nearby. Tension prevailed for four days, which saw some stone pelting and mild caning involving political workers. The anger was plain. In unison, drivers told the toll managers they wouldn’t pay.

Cab driver Prakash S said he would not agree to the hike. “How can I pay such a  hefty toll? And they fix such rates without even asking us or telling us. That too at midnight when I am ferrying tired passengers. I will never pay such rates, come what may,” the driver shouted and drove away.

Taking cue, several taxi drivers drove away, too, without paying the toll. Then the traffic jams intensified with the next lot of vehicles coming to the toll booth. Once again, drivers shouted and refused to pay. Even the police tried to make them understand that the hike was undertaken according to regulations.

Meanwhile, the toll officials put up barriers and asked the waiting drivers to pay. More of them refused. Byre Gowda, a cab driver running KSTDC vehicles said: “Even if the passengers have to pay, it will be a burden for them. They will in turn pick a quarrel with us over the fee.” Many drivers echoed his sentiment.  Shivu is a frequent driver on the airport road and travels up and down several times in a day.

“I travel up and down every day several times. Imagine how much I would end up spending at this rate? What can I even take back?”

Cab driver Mahesh was taken aback because he was anxious about where to generate money from on daily basis. “From where will I get the money to pay such high toll every day? If I have to ask the passengers and if they refuse, what will I do? I think this revision will go on and on. At some point, we may have to give up driving.”

Driver Harish has been travelling on the KIA road for long. He acknowledges that the quality of the road is now good. But he too is reserved about the high revision. “I can understand if they had hiked rates  by ten or twenty rupees, but this is eighty-five rupees and that too daily. We don’t have all the resources. Ultimately, we know that it has to be passed onto passengers. They won’t like it. But what’s the choice?”

A commuter also expressed his anxiety over the high rates. Rangaswamy says it is “extremely difficult for people like me” who travel often. “First, the cab prices are very high; on top of this is the toll, which is an added burden. I will end up shelling out at least seven hundred rupees each time. They need to be considerate.”

Cab driver Ramesh too travels by this route daily. He says the toll officials are taking police support and burdening drivers. He asks why they were not told about the revision in advance. Ramesh suspects that the hike was a game-plan of the State government and so was not undertaken before elections. Bhaskar Chattopadhyaya, a resident of Sarjapur Road, says the hike is not reasonable and was a huge inconvenience for passengers. “I will end up shelling out five hundred rupees each week at this rate. It is not reasonable.”

Drivers and passengers, it is clear, are certainly in no mood to pay hefty toll rates. But the business model dictates that any project be self-financing, which means people have to pay to ensure that the investment breakevens. There is subsidy. So, other than self-financing, what else can be the model?

Growth experts say the only way out for India as a whole would be to create high-quality infrastructure to generate growth and development and this means that people have to pay for the services they get.

Most countries in the West operate on this principle. The new age economy dictum is “let the markets decide”. Supply and demand will take care of pricing. India has little choice in not adopting such a model. given that the alternatives are not feasible. Russian socialism anyone?

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