For many commuters in the city, share auto-rickshaws are an affordable way to get around. With affordable fares, they help many people travel with minimum fuss.

But with rising fuel costs, affordability is no longer the USP of share autos. “I make over 12 trips from KK Nagar to the Central Bus Stand per day, after I fill my tank with diesel, for around ₹1300. I barely get to save ₹300 after paying the vehicle owner’s commission and overheads, per day,” Nagarajan, 29, a share auto driver, told The Hindu.

As a result, drivers like Mr. Nagarajan are forced to take on more than the permitted number of passengers to manage their expenses. “The rules specify five passengers plus one driver, but I usually take up to 13 persons in a trip. This is the only way to break even,” he claimed.

There are 50 share autos operating in the city, with 25 each registered in the Regional Transport Office (RTO) of Pirattiyur and Srirangam.

Due to laidback monitoring, share autos can be seen plying with up to 15 passengers. On flyovers, the three-wheelers totter precariously as they keep up with the traffic. “During rush hour, drivers keep boarding more commuters with standing room, and often we end up struggling,” said Abraham, a share auto user. “I use the share auto mainly because it costs less than the bus, but I’m afraid when it gets filled up,” he added.

Share autos and auto-rickshaws provide a crucial link for those residing in remote areas to the city, but the sector has suffered due to diversification of public transport options in Tiruchi.

“At least 7,000 drivers are registered with the RTOs, and there are 2,000 more undocumented auto operators in Tiruchi. But this sector has seen its profits being eroded by rising insurance fees and spot fines. Besides this, bike taxis and App-based cab rides are slowly eating into the auto-rickshaw operators’ earnings. The government needs to formulate a new pandemic-adapted policy to help them,” said R. Raja, district secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

Mr. Nagarajan, a share auto driver, said that he would shift back to his earlier job of long-distance trucking if the trade became unfeasible. “I will have to drive up to Kolkatta from Tiruchi, and journey will take me at least six days to cover one way. But it could earn me a better income,” he said.

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