Autorickshaws began plying in Tiruchi on Saturday morning after over two months. Drivers were relieved to get back to work but found the stringent conditions imposed by the government were difficult to adhere to.
O. Jayakumar, an autorickshaw driver, woke up early on Saturday morning, disinfected his vehicle and was ready at the auto stand near the Central Bus Stand at 7 a.m., the time stipulated by the authorities for the plying of autorickshaws.
Even at 11 a.m., he had not gone on a single trip, he rued. I have already spent around 500 to repair my autorickshaw after it was idle for two months. Now, Ive spent another 30 drinking tea and eating some snacks. But I have earned nothing, he said.
The government had allowed the plying of the autorickshaws with the condition that only one passenger was allowed at a time, and that they would have to disinfect their vehicle thrice a day. They are also only allowed to ply from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The autorickshaw drivers, however, were clueless about where to get their vehicles disinfected. We have bottles of sanitiser in our vehicle. We are using it to wipe our seats, for our own safety, said P. Swamiraj, another autorickshaw driver. The bottles were expensive to purchase and keeping regular stock would be difficult, especially if they do not get customers, he said.
In Tiruchi, people travel to the markets and to temples, all of which are closed. With public transport yet to function, autorickshaws, which provide last-mile connectivity for travellers, are rendered useless, said Mr. Swamiraj.
The one-passenger rule was flouted by some drivers across the city.
I cannot say no to a customer after 50 days of being jobless, said another driver said. If a husband and wife approach us, can we ask them to take two separate autos? What about pregnant women, mothers with children and even the aged who need help? Whoever made this norm did not even consider the difficulties, he said.
Many autorickshaws on Saturday also hiked the fares due to low passenger footfall, claimed some passengers.
On an average day, a trip from my house to my office in Thennur would cost 40. Today, the driver asked for 80. I had no choice but to take the auto but will not be able to spend the amount every day M. Bharathi, who works at a private company said.