Safeguard commutersí interests

Pushpa Girimaji
Pushpa Girimaji

THE "meter-jam" campaign (one-day boycott of autorickshaws and taxis) called by Mumbaikars on August 12 to express their anger over the highhandedness of autorickshaw and taxi drivers found a positive response not only in Mumbai, but in many other cities and towns. One could see commuters from Bangalore and Delhi expressing on social networking sites, their solidarity with the Mumbai commuters, and also calling for similar boycotts in their cities, too.

I refer to this because in a way the campaign was a milestone in the history of the Indian consumer movement. Even though Mahatma Gandhi first introduced Indians to the campaign of boycott and passive resistance, the consumer movement somehow never used this powerful weapon as an expression of their anger and protest over their exploitation. Today, thanks to the Internet in general and the social networking sites in particular, Indians have found a voice. I do believe that this is only the beginning, and we will soon have many such campaigns and boycott calls, and they will be far more successful with greater participation of people.

Having said that, I must also point to the fact that the "meter-jam" campaign exposes the way the administration has allowed the exploitation of the public or commuters by autorickshaw and taxi drivers. It also highlights the need for a specific regulation to define and protect the rights of commuters, including those who travel by bus, and enforce those rights stringently.

If you travel in taxicabs in North American cities, for example, you will notice that the taxis carry on the back of the front seat, a poster or an information label, describing your rights as a commuter, which broadly include your right to a safe ride, and the right to be charged the correct amount indicated on the meter, and the right to your destination through the shortest route.

You also have the right to a quiet ride, without the cab driver sounding the horn continuously, or talking on the mobile, or switching on blaring music. In addition to describing your rights, these information posters or labels give you the taxicab driverís licence number and the 24-hour hotline on which you can call to complain, or even compliment him.

In other words, most cities have codified the rights of taxi users. These rights vary on the basis of the requirements of commuters. The Bill of Rights of Taxi Riders in the city of Los Angeles, for example, says that those who travel in those taxis have: (1) the right to be charged an accurate fare for the distance travelled; (2) the right to display of designated taxi rates, including approved surcharges inside the cab; (3) the right to a ride in a taxi cab that is in safe working order; (4) the right to a receipt; (5) the right to a taxi driver who is knowledgeable about major destinations, and is able to take you to your destination in the quickest time, and by the shortest route; and (6) the right to complain to the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

Similarly, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, New York, lists out your rights as a commuter. These include the right to a driver who uses E-Z pass at all toll crossings, and charges passengers the discounted E-Z pass rate; the right to pay with credit or debit card; the right to employ a safe and courteous driver, who knows English and the cityís geography; and the right to direct the route to be taken by the driver.

It is time the authorities in India looked seriously at the problems being faced by taxi, auto and even bus commuters, and came up with a detailed regulation to safeguard their interests.