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Updated: July 20, 2013 11:21 IST

Riding piggy back

  • Sohail Hashmi
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Hardly any takers: One of the cycle stands. Photo: Sohail Hashmi
The Hindu
Hardly any takers: One of the cycle stands. Photo: Sohail Hashmi

Entrepreneurs profit while the bicycle scheme for short distance commuting along Delhi’s BRT Corridor fails

We live in a strange city, a city that never ceases to surprise, not only for its creativity but also for its deviousness. The poor are devious because without their deviousness they will not survive in this city even for a day. The deviousness of the poor can, therefore, be overlooked because for them it is an existential necessity but what can one do about the extreme deviousness of those who do it purely for profit? Except to sit back and marvel at the ingenious ways in which the human mind, especially the crooked mind, works.

Take the case of the humble bicycle stand. There was a time, and not too long ago, that Delhi was full of bicycles and bicycle riders could be seen all over the city, except of course on Raj Path, where they were not permitted to trespass. A colonial rule that survived the British presence in India (as have most of their laws) prohibited cyclists from what used to be King’s way. We translated King’s way into Raj Path, and retained all the imperial exclusivities. But aside from this elite stretch the bicycle was everywhere, every government office, railway stations, colleges, schools, cinema halls, banks, post offices, all busy markets, coffee houses, many restaurants, especially those that attracted university students and even some of the well-known hotels had bicycle stands.

And then suddenly we decided to push motorised transport, mopeds, scooters, motor cycles and soon the car, especially with the arrival of the 800 CC Maruti. The city was virtually overhauled, bicycle tracks disappeared, the bicycle now had to compete with the two wheelers and three wheelers and finally with the buses being pushed into the left lane, the bicycle virtually breathed its last.

This shift was not so much a result of a sudden jump in the levels of prosperity of the ordinary Dilliwala, leading to bicycle riders shifting to motorised two wheelers. It was a deliberate relocation of the bicycle user to the outskirts of the city, to Mangolpuri, Shakarpur, Dakshinpuri, Khichripur, Welcome, Seelampur, Nandnagri,Seemapuri, Rithala, and what have you.

Go and stand, not at the DND flyover for bicycles and pedestrians are not permitted there, but at the Wazirabad Bridge, old Yamuna Bridge, the ITO Bridge and the Kalindi Kunj Bridge or stand at the Badarpur, Ghitorni, Andheria More, Mahipalpur or Peeragarhi chowk in the morning or evening and watch the bicycles roll in, in their hundreds and thousands. People, working class people, who cannot afford to live here or are not permitted to live here, ride in for work and ride out after work as you watch them you will realise the lengths to which we have gone to make this city a city of those who commute in motorised transport.

With more than 800 new cars being registered every day, no matter how many flyovers and elevated road corridors we might make, the jams are not going to go away. This reality seemed eventually to dawn upon those who preside over the fate of this city and it appeared that they were finally getting around to listening to those who had been clamouring for cycle tracks for ages. Cycle tracks were built along the BRT, on all the new or expanded bridges across Yamuna and new bridges like the Neela Hauz Bridge along Aruna Asif Ali Marg and at other places.

This was followed with the announcement that the government had approved a private initiative to provide bicycles on affordable rent to people for short distance commuting, the private operator was allotted sites for storing the bicycles near Metro stations and bus stands along the BRT Corridor and in exchange for making the initial expenditure on building bicycle stands and buying the bicycles the entrepreneur was allowed to use the roof of the stand for advertisements.

This appeared to be a workable solution. It was hoped that the scheme could be expanded, gradually, to cover all roads with bicycle tracks and bicycle stands where you could pick up a bicycle, run your chore and return the bike on your way back. Eventually it might become possible to pick up a bicycle from one stand, ride to another, leave it there and carry on.

All these dreams were to remain what they were -- dreams. Most stands that I have been watching over the last year or so have no attendant, ever. I found one and he informed me that I could hire a bicycle if I deposited my original photo ID with him, no photocopies accepted and I could get it back when I returned the bicycle. He also told me that most people did not want to leave their original photo IDs and so did not take the bike. In a whole day he usually got two or three customers.

Remember the bit about deviousness that I talked about in the first paragraph of this story. I suspect that the private individual is not too keen on being a good Samaritan. He wanted a free advertisement space and he has it now.

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