Promotion of bicycles on Delhi roads has met with only lip service from the authorities. The author looks at some initiatives that seem half-hearted

This is a common chord that binds many of us no matter where we live, where we have grown up.

Well, I am referring to your bicycle stories. As a child, as a student riding to school or through the colony park, as an adult pedalling to work or even as a Sunday cyclist belonging to an enthusiast club, you certainly would have at least one yarn on the experience of riding by balancing on the two wheels. I clearly can recall a sense of coming-of-age, of self-dependence and adventure, holding tight the handlebars, riding to school many summers ago.

Obviously then, on seeing sporadic signboards on Delhi roads that say ‘cycle lane’, or going past bicycle lending stations on the BRT and at the Delhi University Metro station, the heart gets hopeful, if not nostalgic. You perceive that someone somewhere at the helm of decision-making for the National Capital wants the public to use bicycles. In a city of flyovers frustratingly packed with cars, it certainly gives hope — for a choice to cover short distances on a cycle through the dedicated lanes, or to complete the last mile home on a borrowed bike after a Metro ride. Not to mention contributing your two bits to Delhi’s environment!

The thrill is soon gone though. Faulty road designs, shoddy project implementation, half-hearted efforts at promoting the initiatives tell their sad stories.

DMRC’s shot at cycle promotion

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s attempt began in 2008, as a cycle feeder service. In 2014, there is just one station — Vishwa Vidyalaya — that offers the facility. In over five years, instead of expanding the service, DMRC has shrunk it. Not due to low user demand but because of its failure to come up with a strategy to run the service smoothly.

It launched a state-of-the-art cycle lending service through a private operator at its Rohini (east) station on World Environment Day in 2010 with fan fare. Only to suspend it nine months later. A row of green-coloured cycles gathers dust in a locked enclosure outside the station since last two years.

Sanjeev Garg and Atul Jain of Delhi Cycles Pvt. Ltd, who ran the service for DMRC, sound bitter. The duo claims to have given DMRC the idea. “In 2001, we emailed DMRC about a project to open cycle lending outlets at its stations for commuters to complete the last mile home. In November 2008, they took our idea and gave the contract to Planet Advertising to run a cycle feeder service at 15 stations. We however, continued to pursue it with DMRC. From an NGO, we formed a company. In end 2009, we were allotted one station. We began to operate in 2010 by investing 32 lakhs. We have now lost that money,” states Jain. Garg shows a Power Point presentation of the project, mentioning, “Unlike our competitors, we issued smart cards to users similar to what DMRC uses. The cycles could be monitored through a chip, also the hours that a user clocks. We took space from MCD to set up sheds across Rohini where users could deposit their cycles.”

While Planet Advertising with 15 stations and advertising rights was not asked to pay any security money or share revenue with DMRC, Delhi Cycles, without any advertising rights, had to. Garg says, “We paid Rs.50,000 as security to DMRC plus 25 per cent of the fare as revenue share.”

In mid-2013, DMRC discontinued its agreement with Planet Advertising before the five-year term ended, reportedly leading to arbitration.

Sudhir Haryal of Planet Advertising sounds disgruntled. “DMRC seems confused, our cycle stands were running fine. The overheads are high, cycles often get stolen. Nobody came forward to run the service for them, we did, but the Government is not helping us.”

Though DMRC floated a fresh tender in December 2013 to choose operators, it has subsequently been “kept in abeyance.”

DMRC spokesperson Anuj Dayal, without giving any time frame for reopening the service, says, “An overall planning and study is to be carried out by Urban Mass Transit Company Ltd. with other agencies such as MCD, NDMC, DDA, CPWD, UTTIPEC (Unified Traffic & Transportation Integrated Planning & Engineering Centre) about the cycle shelter project and after completing this study, its implementation will be reviewed.”

Attractive advertising space

Meanwhile, Haryal’s initiative Green Revolution runs nine cycle lending booths on the BRT corridor. He claims they are running well but others accuse him of “using the space only for advertisements.”

Since there is not much scope to earn from users, advertising rights make these spaces lucrative. Virender Chopra, who runs the DU service with advertising rights, too is pinning hopes on getting rights to open more booths.

BRT booths user-unfriendly

The lending booths on the BRT seem user-unfriendly. Either your Aadhar or election card or driving licence has to be deposited without a receipt to lend a cycle. After using it, you are to return it to the same station though the operator is the same.

Haryal says, “A user can register on our website as a member to avoid giving originals.” I couldn’t find a booth willing to do so.

Student I-Cards

DU station users also need to return the cycle at the same booth plus surrender an identity card. Chopra says it is because cycles get stolen.

“The system works here as our users are mostly students who come out of Metro, borrow a cycle to go around the campus and return here, then collect their I-D cards.” The station has 20 cycles. The average number of users per day is 12, says Dayal.

Bicycle Master Plan

The number is dismal considering Delhi’s Transport Department had a Bicycle Master Plan as early as 1998. IIT-Delhi professor and project coordinator for the Plan, Geetam Tiwari, is “still hopeful” even as she points out certain creases that need ironing.

“The traffic jams happen because we are wasting road space. In the Plan, we insisted on dedicated cycle lanes on the arterial roads of Delhi not because cyclists would be safe this way but also because cars can go better. This has been implemented by PWD on some roads during the Commonwealth Games though some just end abruptly, defeating the purpose.”

The street design guidelines, based on the Bicycle Master Plan, she says, “has been approved by UTIPEC. PWD just has to follow it.”

Tiwari wonders why we can’t allow school goers to use cycles. “Most students stay 4-5 kms around their schools. With a little tweaking of road space, we can make them safe for them. It is not only an environment friendly means of commuting but will also address the problem of obesity in our children.”

BRT is to discourage use of cars

The concept of dedicated bus and cycle lanes on the BRT corridor has been drawn from this Master Plan. States Tiwari, “There is criticism about BRT in the media on the argument that it causes traffic jams. But the idea was to give people back their public space in a phased manner, to encourage them to use public transport which would run smoothly on dedicated lanes. That is why it has bus lanes. Also cycle lanes to give cyclists the right of way. It was also a step towards lowering air and noise pollution.” She offers food for thought saying, “The more space you give to cars, the more space they would want. There is no end to it. So you have to allocate certain metres for cars and no more. The trend worldwide has been to discourage use of too many cars and encourage people to use more and more public transport. By building so many flyovers and widening roads to accommodate more cars, and opting for BRT at the same time, the Government is sending out a confused message.” Because of the cycle lane, “there has been zero fatality on the BRT.”

The big question

What Tiwari hints here is also a concerned Delhiite’s worry: With banks and carmakers making hay from motorised vehicles sold on EMI, will the National Capital ever see an efficient public transport system or promotion of the environment-friendly cycles?

More In: Metroplus | Features | Delhi