What started as a feeder service 20 years ago is now giving MTC buses a run for their money, especially since share autos have started sporting route numbers, similar to buses, for customers’ convenience.
In these 20 years after they were introduced as a feeder service, share autos have emerged as a tough competitor to buses run by the Metropolitan Transport Corporation. The way in which they have upped their game was on display recently – when MTC buses started to publicise the minimum fares to attract more passengers, share autos too began to sport route numbers, like buses, to make it easier for regular bus commuters to opt for it instead.
Also, these autos are not confined to short distance trips any more. The routes they cover now include Guindy to Tambaram, Koyambedu to Tambaram, Ashok Pillar to Ambattur, Anna Nagar to Ashok Pillar, Anna Nagar to T Nagar, Anna Nagar to Vadapalani, Ashok Pillar to Retteri, Ashok Pillar to Madhavaram, and Porur to Adyar.
B Anbazhagan, the general secretary of Chennai Metropolitan Motor Workers’ Union, said, “There are at least 40 share autos that ply along various bus routes. The rest ply on short distances to bridge the gap in connectivity. These carriers became an instant hit among the customers, who find this a more convenient mode of transportation, as they get dropped at their points of convenience.”
Convenience vs concerns
Once they receive the contract carriage permit — which can be renewed after five years — these minivans can play across the state. But, the yellow coloured share autos are permitted to operate only along the designated routes, explained Joint Transport Commissioner (South) M Manakumar.
“The permit given to them does not allow these vans to ply along the bus routes. Every month, more than 400 such vans are penalised across the two transport zones,” Manakumar said. Another official added: “They continue to operate because they receive good response from the public.”
Another common concern aired by commuters is the lack of a proper process to fix fares as the Transport Department is not tasked to fix a tariff for the share autos unlike how it does in the case of normal autos in the city.
“Recently, the share auto operators increased the fare irrationally. I was paying them Rs 25 to travel between Nungambakkam and Anna Nagar West. Now, they demand up to Rs 35 on this route. Even they have started fleecing passengers attributing the hike to the increase in fuel prices. This is exactly what drivers of normal autorickshaws use as an excuse,” said a regular commuter.
Irritant but indispensable
In a study conducted by the think tank Centre for Public Policy Research, on para transit sector in the city in 2013, it was found that share autos rank second in the number of passengers served every day. Though unorganised except for their trade unions, share autos cater to around 1.8 million passengers – second only to MTC among public transport options. Together they generate nearly Rs 2 crore per day – a whopping 66 times more than the daily collection of MRTS network – and employ a large number of people.
According to Chennai Metropolitan Motor Workers’ Union general secretary Anbazhagan, their patronage went down after the MTC buses began publicising the low minimum fare that they charged on ordinary category buses. The corporation added about 30,000 commuters after this step, mostly the share auto passengers opting for a cheaper option. But an official from the MTC, one who knows the significance of this service, said the corporation did not consider share auto sector as a competitor, as they help the public by meeting a demand that exists in the city.
Perhaps therein lies the story of share autos: The sector is not tightly regulated, the operation is often haphazard, and is said to be one of the reasons for congestion and pollution. The ground situation, however, demands a solution like what share autorickshaws offer.
- State Transport department introduced share autos in 1998 to enhance transport options
- Magic minivans were granted licence to operate as ‘contract carriage’ in 2010
- Transport Department generates a monthly revenue of Rs 5 lakh from fines slapped on share auto operators who flout rules
- Now, there are about 4,000 Magic vans and 3,500 share autos (yellow painted) in the city
- They generate an estimated Rs 2 crore per day – 66 times more than the daily collection of MRTS network*