With the twin-city slowly having started regaining its momentum under the Maharashtra government’s phase-wise implementation of the 'Mission Begin Again' initiative, a section of rogue auto-rickshaw drivers are looking to make the most by fleecing passengers, despite relaxations.
The worst affected are those living in far-flung localities and rural areas – especially in the coastal and rural belt of Uttan near Bhayandar, who largely rely on shared autos for their daily travel needs.
Sensing the seriousness of the issue, BJP corporator and former standing committee chairman Dhruvkishore Patil has lodged a complaint with the local traffic department seeking action against the erring auto-drivers.
In the first phase of relaxation from the lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, rickshaws were allowed to ply with only two passengers, to ensure physical distancing.
While some auto drivers operating on the share service route in a bid to compensate their losses started forcing passengers to pay for the third and even fourth (sitting beside the driver) seat, several others were found to be openly violating the distancing rule.
After gradual relaxations, auto-drivers have resumed ferrying three to four passengers but some continue to demand twice the fares, triggering arguments and fights with those opposing the illegal fare structure.
“I have asked the traffic and RTO officers to drill sense in the minds of erring auto-rickshaw drivers and if necessary take stringent action against those found to be fleecing passengers,” said Patil.
While traffic officials assured to take action, office bearers of local unions blamed drivers of illegally plying autos for the mess. Around 7,500 auto-rickshaws have been issued valid permits by authorities.
However, an additional 2,000 autos are believed to be illegally plying in the twin-city.
While share-an-auto drivers ferry more than three passengers violating rules, regular auto-rickshaws flatly refuse to ferry passengers by meter, if they are not on their preferred route or a long-distance journey.