Going the Last Mile

Bicycle sharing projects in smart cities

The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) aims to provide efficient urban mobility and public transport options in the 99 cities that have been selected under the mission. To this end, a number of smart mobility solutions such as public bicycle sharing (PBS), smart parking systems, smart cards, etc. are being developed in these cities.

A PBS system is basically a system that promotes bicycle riding in the city to reduce traffic congestion and provide last-mile connectivity from key locations such as bus rapid transit (BRT) and metro rail stops/stations, as well as other important places in the city centre. A number of cities such as Mysuru, Bhopal, Pune and Jaipur have already launched their PBS systems and those such as the twin cities of Hubballi-Dharwad are planning to launch their systems soon.

Rationale for PBS systems

Under the PBS system, bicycles are made available to individuals for shared use on a short-term basis. Thus, commuters are able to borrow a bike from a designated bicycle docking station and return it to another docking station within a specified period of time, which is generally between 30 and 120 minutes. Most PBS systems offer a subscription option, which makes renting a bicycle fairly inexpensive. Under the PBS system, each bike can be booked using an app or by paying directly at the docking stations itself and can be used by several users each day. In many systems, smartphone mapping apps show nearby stations with available bikes and open docks. Many cities globally also have dedicated cycling tracks which ensures the safety of the rider from other vehicular traffic.

Bike sharing also contributes to a cleaner environment. It provides an environmentally friendly form of transportation to the public, and this can reduce pollution that vehicles otherwise used would have produced. It also saves fuel that other forms of transport would have needed. Further, it provides an affordable option for tourists who visit these cities. They can take short trips using these bikes. PBS projects are also expected to contribute to a reduction in demand for vehicular parking leading to higher land availability for other purposes.

Select smart cities implementing

PBS projects

Bicycle sharing, which began in Europe in 1965, was revolutionised after the year 2000 with the introduction of information technology. Globally, over 600 cities already provide bicycles as a commuting option. CitiBike, New York city’s bicycle sharing system is one of the largest such systems in the world.

A few Indian cities have also launched these systems.

Bhopal

Bhopal is the capital of Madhya Pradesh and is a major hub of economic activity. Due to a large number of people shifting to the city in search of opportunities, there has been an increase in vehicular traffic within the city. As a result of this, the city needs to sustainably manage the increasing transport requirement of both its resident as well as floating population.

To overcome these challenges, in 2017, Bhopal introduced a PBS system, as a safer, more economical, healthier, and eco-friendly mode of transport. The project provides first- and last-mile connectivity to and from the BRT system in the city. A few key features of the project are:

  • 12 km of dedicated bicycle tracks have been constructed.
  • There are 50 docking stations at suitable locations in the city where bicycles are placed and from where one can hire them.
  • 500 GPS-enabled bicycles have been imported from Germany.
  •  A PBS mobile app has been created where users can register themselves, choose a suitable bicycle-sharing plan and pay for it.
  • For those who do not have access to mobile apps, direct registration is available. One can hire a bicycle for an hour or half an hour by making direct on-site payments.

The docking stations have been strategically located near the city’s BRT system. The tracks have been developed along the Bhopal BRT corridor and have been marked in red to highlight the area designated only for cyclists. This will help ensure that the cyclists are safe while riding. In the long term, the tracks are planned to be extended along the full 24 km BRT stretch from Misrod to Bairagarh in the city outskirts.

The Bhopal PBS has three membership schemes. The subscription provides options of a yearly pass, a quarterly pass and a monthly pass. The service is free for members for the first 30 minutes, and from then on they receive a 50 per cent discount on the fares. The fare is calculated on a progressive basis, and starts from Rs 10 for the first 30 minutes and then increases gradually in slots of 30 minutes.

The project has been developed at a cost of Rs 70 million, Rs 30 million of which has come from SCM funds and the balance has been invested by the private sector.

Pune

The PBS system in Pune is called the Pune Cycle Plan. It was developed in 2016 to help make Pune a cycle-friendly city. Under the plan, users can hire a cycle from any docking station, located at convenient places in the city, use it to go anywhere they want to, and return it to a docking station located near their destination. Such stations are located near popular destinations, BRT areas, train stations, etc.

Members can get themselves registered by using a smart card linked to the PBS system, a mobile app developed for PBS, a credit card or any other form of identification. Under Phase I of the plan, Pune will have over 300 km of cycle tracks with over 3,000 cycles and 250 docking stations. A pilot run for the project was conducted in December 2017 at Aundh and at Savitribai Phule Pune University.

Mysuru

Mysuru was the first smart city to launch the PBS system in June 2017. The system, called Trin Trin, has 48 cycle docking stations spread across the city. The project will make 450 cycles available for use by the public. A central control centre has been set up for controlling and monitoring the system along with a website and a mobile app for enquiries and registration. The system can be accessed using a smart card which costs Rs 350. The facility is free for the first hour for members, after which the charges are increased in a graded manner.

The system has seen massive acceptance in Mysuru. Of the total public transport users, 30 per cent have shifted from motorised modes to the PBS system. More than 7,000 members had registered for the system till November 2017. To promote the use of the system, four cycling events were organised in the city in February and March 2017.

Jaipur

The Jaipur PBS system, called Cyclo, was launched in December 2017. The city has initially started the service at two locations, Jawahar Circle and Ramniwas Bagh. It is planned to be extended to 20 locations across the city in a phased manner. The cycles are available from the two docking stations between 6.30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Forty cycles have been made available to begin with, and the users will have to pay a fee of Rs 10 per hour for using them.

The first project for bicycle sharing has been developed at a cost Rs 30 million. Greenolution has been awarded the operations and maintenance contract for five years. The second bicycle sharing project, on a dock less concept, was inaugurated in February 2018. This is being implemented with Zoomcar, the self drive car rental firm. The bike rental facility is spread across 30 locations in the city area where approximately 300 bicycles are available.

Issues and challenges

PBS is a major step in enhancing smart mobility in cities. However, the system has its own share of issues and challenges. One of the biggest challenges seen globally is to get the bikes where they need to be at all times. Some docking stations run empty while others fill up, not only frustrating users, but causing a system imbalance quickly and repeatedly.

Another issue is changing the mindset of residents who are not accustomed to this mode of transport. Introducing them to bicycling is a challenge for city administrations. Another issue which has been seen in some Chinese PBS systems is the difficulty in recovering prepaid deposits by consumers from smart cards issued by the PBS system. Some consumer protection groups in China have filed complaints against PBS operators for the same.

Conclusion

The growing urban population and the associated rising vehicular traffic necessitates the introduction of smart mobility solutions such as PBS to better plan for future mobility challenges. Not only will this enable a reduction in vehicular congestion, but also contribute to a cleaner environment and improved health conditions for people in these cities.

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