NEW DELHI: While Delhi was among the first cities to promote the idea of public bicycle sharing, it is yet to prepare a concrete plan about it. In contrast, Bhopal is all set to launch its PBS project next month. With 50 stations spread over 12 kms, 500 bicycles and a central control room, it is going to be country's first large-scale bicycle sharing project.
Mysuru, Pune, Indore, Chennai, Karnal and Jabalpur are among the 20 cities that have proposed PBS as part of their smart city proposals. While Karnal started the pilot PBS last year with 18 stations and 200-plus bicycles, other cities are in various stages of implementing the project for better last-mile connectivity.
As far as Delhi is concerned, little has moved in the last three years during which Delhi government, the south corporation and the Delhi Development Authority have proposed to start PBS, but the plans have remained on paper. The two cycling projects — Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System along the BRT corridor and DMRC's project in the Delhi University area — have failed to popularise this environment-friendly mode of transportation. "These were cycle rental projects, not bicycle sharing," says Anumita Roychowdhury, head of the Centre for Science and Environment's Clean Air campaign. These were unsuccessful due to systemic design issues, such as poor network of stations, the requirement to return the cycle to the station from where it was hired from, maintenance issues, etc, she adds.
Sidhharth Pandit of the National Institute of Urban Affairs agrees and says that there are seven necessary components for success of bicycling in a city. "Physical infrastructure, bicycle parking, transit integration, bike sharing, transit-oriented development through land-use planning, institutional incentives and use of technology are essential components," said Pandit, chair, NIUA-CIDCO Smart City Lab, NIUA.
Bhopal's PBS will be the first large network, IT-based smart project with a new revenue model that won't be based completely on advertising. "The stations will be connected to a central control room so that cycles can be tracked. In Phase-II, we plan to implement it on an entire 24-km long BRT corridor with more stations in colonies, markets and public places for better last-mile connectivity," says Chandramauli Shukla, CEO, Bhopal Smart City Development Corporation (BSCDCL).
While smaller cities have acknowledged the importance of PBS, Delhi, which has been facing a serious air pollution problem, appears to be dragging its feet.
"Delhi can learn a lot from smallser cities," said Amit Bhatt, head of transport at WRI India, which is assisting BSCDCL. It is also assisting Karnal, Bhubaneswar, Panaji, Indore and Amritsar in implementing the PBS system.
One of the main challenges in PBS system is revenue generation. Some of the past projects have focused on advertising for revenue, which experts say is a bad idea. Shreya Gadepalli, South Asia director at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, and co-author of the Public Cycle Sharing Toolkit published by the ministry of urban development, says, "User subscription fee isn't sufficient to sustain a cycle-sharing system. However, bundling its operations with advertising is a bad idea. Advertisement revenue becomes the primary motive and the operator, often, actively subverts the system — making it difficult for users to access cycles."
Bhopal, Bhatt claims, has managed to address this crucial issue. Experts say, hand-holding is required from government in the initial phases to make PBS a success.
"Advertising will be one of the many sources of revenue. The operator has been given the option to generate revenue by using excess space at the station for parking, organising cycling events, CSR funding, etc. But the government paid Rs 3 crore as capital cost for infrastructure. It will also pay part of the operation cost, but it is dependent on the performance of the operator," says Bhatt.
Another important aspect is scale of the project. For PBS system to be a success, Gadepalli says, the project should have at least 1,000 shared cycles covering an area of 5 sqkm or more in the pilot phase, with a goal of expanding to 400 cycles per lakh population.
It should good quality cycles and IT-enabled monitoring system.In Delhi, experts say, there is a need to prepare a comprehensive bike plan aligning it with mass transit system.
"Delhi is investing heavily in Metro systems and buses over the next 3-4 years, thereby potentially improving its mass transit. More important to the success of PBSS is a comprehensive bike plan," said Pandit.