A commendable move | Sunday Observer

A commendable move

The installation of taxi meters with the capability of issuing printed bills would be compulsory from August 1
The installation of taxi meters with the capability of issuing printed bills would be compulsory from August 1

A taxi, by definition, is a vehicle for hire that should have a meter to indicate the distance travelled and the final fare upon the completion of the journey. A meter makes life easier for both, the passenger and the driver as there is no need to haggle or fight over the fare. The passenger has to just pay the fare indicated on the meter and the story ends there.

Most three wheelers in Sri Lanka have meters now, although some still continue to run without them. Although meters are supposed to be compulsory, some have apparently not got the message. Now the Government has imposed a deadline for affixing meters, adding another requirement – the passenger should get a receipt at the end of the journey. This is a welcome addition to the regulations governing the operation of three wheelers. Obviously, people who exclusively use the three wheelers as a form of personal or family transport do not have to follow this rule.

It has been observed that the meter in many three wheelers is for decorative purposes only. When the passenger gets in, he or she is told that the meter is “broken”, but the fare to the intended destination would be Rs.X, which is inevitably higher than the metered fare of Rs.Y. Since most passengers are in a hurry to reach their destination, they fall for this ploy.

There are reports that some taxi meters, which purportedly work, have been rigged to work out higher fares. The Government must look into these aspects as well.

The installation of taxi meters with the capability of issuing printed bills would be compulsory from August 1, the National Council for Road Safety (NCRF) has said.

NCRF Chairman Dr Sisira Kodagoda has told the media that the regulation would be strictly implemented and stern legal action will be taken against passenger transport three-wheelers if they do not have fare meters. (Traffic Police will randomly check three wheelers to inspect the meters).

They should issue printed bills to passengers indicating the distance, fare, charge per kilometre, taxi and the driver details. In the alternative, drivers can have their own bill book printed giving all the above-mentioned details. The rule was to be implemented in January 2017, but due to requests made by three-wheeler associations, the implementation date was pushed back to this year.

The manufacture of taxi-meters is being carried out locally by several companies, which is also a welcome development in the context of import substitution.

This has prevented foreign exchange from flowing out to import taxi meters. The meters manufactured locally are second to none and provide for all required parameters. The printing part will require only a minor modification.

A taxi meter costs from Rs.10,000-Rs.15,000, but it is not clear whether a printing mechanism could also be offered within this price range.

They can take a cue from the electronic bus ticket machine, which already has a printing mechanism.

In any case, financial assistance must be made available for the purchase of locally manufactured electronic taxi meters which conform to specified standards. Perhaps, the banks can throw in the meter for free when a three wheeler is financed.

It is also vital to give the details of the driver by affixing that information on the driver’s seatback.

This should include the name, NIC Number, home address, telephone number(s), area of operation/police division and any other relevant information. In fact, this should apply to all private hire vehicles including those operated by ride hailing and ride sharing services.

At the moment, these services too do not offer printed receipts, though to be fair by them, they do share the fare information through the relevant booking application and by email. This obviates the need for a physical receipt, but a mechanism to issue a printed bill will only be a minor modification. Moreover, these services give a very accurate fare estimate before the journey commences, so the passenger already knows a ballpark figure for the amount that needs to be paid either by cash or credit card. A few established radio taxi companies already do give printed receipts and this is not a hard act for others to follow.

It is not only the three wheeler drivers who are guilty of not giving a ticket or receipt to the passengers. Most private bus conductors do not issue tickets and they conveniently forget the change as well.

This has been made mandatory so many times that we have lost track of it. Private bus crews spring into action and distribute tickets in a flash to passengers only when they get a message that provincial bus inspectors are on the prowl. Every passenger must be issued a ticket for the correct fare and they also have the right to ask for the ticket. A ticket also makes it much easier to settle any dispute over balance money.

There is a very low level of awareness on passenger rights in this country, with the result that most people just grumble and bear even if they are insulted by the three wheeler/bus driver or conductor. This should change – the passengers must be properly empowered to deal with any injustice caused to them by drivers or conductors.

What both private bus crews and three wheeler drivers need is a good dose of discipline. They sorely lack discipline and courtesy to passengers. For most of them, the passenger is a “piece” described in derogatory terms such as “20 keli, 30 keli”. Both these categories of crew need to be trained on passenger courtesy and passenger relations by transport authorities. They would be out of a job without passengers, after all.

Talking of passengers, both categories display a propensity to carry more than they are legally permitted. Once, a Police officer had counted 14 people getting out of a three wheeler.

Buses are worse, with passengers hanging on to their dear lives on the footboard as well during rush hours.

Rules regarding the maximum number of passengers must be strictly enforced for both vehicle categories. A three wheeler can only accommodate three people in the back seat, unless it has been legally modified or factory fitted to carry more passengers.

All buses must display the number of permitted seated and standing passengers, as done in other countries. It is quite acceptable to have five or six more standees, but not 20 or 30. Overloading itself can cause accidents and even if an accident is caused by other factors, the chances of more people getting injured multiply with overloading. Both, the three wheeler and bus industries must be more tightly regulated and controlled for the benefit of passengers.