The very popular share autos, or 7-seater mini vans operating in the hundreds in Chennai and addressing an acutely-felt need for intermediate public transport in the city are in fact illegal, and cannot pick up and drop passengers at random. This was revealed by a response given by the Tamil Nadu Transport Department to an RTI query filed in March 2017 by a journalist from the city, who blogs at Straphangers United.
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The RTI application was filed to the Secretary, Transport, Tamil Nadu, who forwarded it to the Transport Commissioner, who in turn sent it to the RTOs. The response to the query exposes the complete lack of a regulated scheme for shared transport in Tamil Nadu, although such services have been operational for a few years now and are highly popular among commuters, especially women.
The blogger points out that these share autos provide the much needed last-mile connectivity to several Metro stations, and ply till almost 2 am when no other mode of public transport is usually available. Therefore, despite, the couple of hundred 24-seater mini buses introduced by MTC Chennai, the share autos have remained popular as a means of connection between Metro Stations, bus termini and residential areas.
In response to the RTI query, which sought to know if 7-seater or 6-seater vehicles could operate under any law in the city of Chennai and the neighbouring districts of Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram as ‘share autos’, taking passengers from the roadside for drop at random, the Regional Transport Office, Chennai (North West), Chennai 600102 said “No” in its response dated April 3rd.
Grey areas galore
Share autos currently operate from areas like Mylapore, Thiruvanmiyur, Nesappakkam, Porur, Chennai Central, T.Nagar, Anna Nagar and Mogappair. When asked about the action taken against unauthorised autos, the RTI reply said,
“The Motor Vehicles Inspectors are conducting regular checks on these vehicles and booking for offences committed.”
The RTO (North West) has also provided the following figures on the number of 7-seater and 6-seater vehicles that have a valid permit for operation in the city of Chennai, Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram, within its jurisdiction:
Data from Regional Transport Officer (North West), Chennai, 600102
The RTO did not respond to questions on whether the Transport Department had any existing or proposed rules that would enable the operation of shared passenger vehicles, using commercial transport apps for smartphones and on the Internet, such as Ola Share and Uberpool. The reply says:
“This office is only a Regional office. Hence the question is not related to this office.”
There was also no response on whether the Transport Department was taking steps to incorporate the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways report on Guidelines for Taxi Cab Operations in Cities for urban mobility, which the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had published in December 2016. This had been sent by the Union Joint Secretary for Transport, Abhay Damle to the Secretaries of Transport in the States.
Need for regulated services
While the legality of these autos has been under the scanner over a considerable period, their continuing popularity highlights the demand for flexible para transit options in the routes in which they operate. Many of these stop at the doorsteps of offices, thus providing an affordable, convenient alternative to office goers.
The RTI applicant, therefore, pertinently adds:
“Both Chennai Metro and MTC are members of the UITP, the international association of public transport which will hold its summit in Montreal, Canada between May 15 and 17, 2017.
Forming a proper scheme to introduce regulated shared modes of transport in Chennai, besides expanding the static bus network of the MTC are major issues before the city. Delegates from Chennai will be called upon to explain their plan to meet these objectives during and after the UITP conference.”
This article is primarily based on the findings of an RTI filed by a blogger-journalist who has also written about it here. Though the information has been editorially verified, the blogger wishes to remain anonymous.