Guest post by SIMON HARDING
Last week, the Delhi High Court gave the go-ahead for the compulsory installation of GPS systems and printers in the capital’s auto-rickshaws by dismissing petitions against the policy from auto unions (download judgement .pdf here). The GPS kits are supposed to allow the Transport Department to track the movement of Delhi’s autos. The printer will provide the passenger with a fare-receipt, which will show the distance travelled and the amount paid. The policy will eliminate over-charging and will provide “secure and transparent travel” to the capital, claims The Hindu.
Sadly, the installation of GPS systems will do little to address the problem of over-charging. On the contrary, it may actually exacerbate it.
Delhi Integrated Multi Modal Transport Systems (DIMTS), a joint operation between IDFC and the NCR government has been granted a monopoly on the GPS and printing equipment; a captive market of 55000 autos. The GPS and printer will cost the auto operator Rs. 13,500 up front. An additional Rs. 15,000 will be payable to DIMTS every year, according to the Court’s judgment. Both of these costs come despite the availability of GPS systems on the open market for Rs. 5,000 or less.
The vast majority of the capital’s auto operators are contractors who own anything up to a few hundred autos, which they rent out to drivers. The contractors will foot the bill for the GPS systems and printers by raising rents on their auto fleets. The Rs. 15,000 per year charge will ensure rents remain high. Far from the 50 paisa passenger levy the High Court envisages, passengers will pay extra as hard-pressed renter-drivers will have to haggle even harder with passengers just to maintain their income in the face of significant rent increases.
Some will argue that drivers will have no choice but to go by the meter as the Transport Department will be tracking their every move through the GPS system. However, the Transport Department does not have the capacity to handle routine paper-based administration of the city’s auto fleet in an efficient manner: commercial license take months to process, bribes are needed to ensure even routine work is completed and the department enforces a series of ad hoc rules designed to facilitate graft. The Transport Department is simply not capable of monitoring the movements of 55,000 autos on the road twenty-four hours a day. A receipt may tell passengers if they’re being overcharging but it will not allow them to do anything about it.
The mandatory installation of GPS systems and printers will not change the argument over the fare most Delhites have them they flag down an auto. In order to get rid of the hassle and stop drivers fleecing passengers, the costs incurred by drivers must be reduced. Freely issuing auto permits would cut their value from Rs. 4-5 lakh to virtually nothing. This would increase the number of autos on the streets, cut rents, lower monthly loan repayments for owner drivers and encourage auto ownership, all of which would allow drivers to stop haggling and switch on their meters.
The current ruling is just a quick technical solution designed to tighten the screw on drivers, whilst leaving the root causes of overcharging untouched.
(Simon Harding is currently studying for a PhD at the University of British Columbia, Canada. His research interests include urbanisation, migration and public transport in South Asia, particularly in Delhi.)
Previously by Simon Harding in Kafila:
- A few questions about a few thousand new autorickshaws in Delhi
- The truth behind the strike
- Auto-rickshaws in Delhi: Why Sheila Dikshit’s comments are misguided
From Kafila archives:
- Gautam Bhan: The Auto(Rakshasa) and the Citizen