THE SUNDAY STORY Cyclists lament that as the economic prospects of the city grew, so did the number of two-wheelers and cars.
On the busy roads of Pune, one can still hear reminiscences of what was once Maharashtra’s ‘cycle city.’ Cyclists lament that as the economic prospects of the city grew, so did the number of two-wheelers and cars. In its bid to open its doors to industry, the city built huge roads to its doorstep, pushing the humble cycle out of the way.
Attempts to regain the erstwhile title have since brought a lot of attention, but experts say there is still a long way to go.
With the introduction of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Pune as early as 2004, citizens were hopeful that it would address the diverse needs of a growing city. Cycle tracks were a compulsory addition to the BRT corridor. The corridor started functioning in 2008, in time for the Commonwealth Youth Games, and Pune Municipal Corporation claimed that 130 km of cycle tracks were ready.
A June 2011 survey conducted by the city-based organisation Parisar showed that the city needed more than just a check mark over the tracks: it needed a design. The survey found that while the government claimed it had constructed 130 km, only 88 km were found to have cycle tracks. However, most of the 88 km were not in a usable condition, Ranjit Gadgil of Parisar told The Hindu.
Badly designed tracks had many obstructions, like electric poles, bus stops, telephone panels and trees. The tracks were not networked well. “Cycle tracks have missing portions and the sections… are not connected to one another. Unused cycle tracks are then encroached upon, which makes them even less usable,” he said. “Very often, we have seen the PMC itself encroaching on the tracks …”
“Micro design planning is needed in such cases,” Mr. Gadgil said. “There is no blueprint or a model cycle track which can be followed. What is missing in the chain of planning is an urban designer who can give the contractors street design guidelines.” The PMC is convinced of the need for guidelines, and has appointed an urban design firm. “Things are moving, and I’m still hopeful,” Mr. Gadgil, a cyclist himself, said.
Even as it was struggling with the cycle tracks, the PMC set out to introduce a bicycle sharing scheme. To be built on the model of cycle cities, such as London and Paris, the scheme sought to encourage cycling and make it financially viable.
After tenders were sought, a non-profit organisation led by a youngster, Raj Janagam, was awarded the contract for introducing 300 cycles on rent, with 25 stations. Raj, who had already run a pilot in Mumbai with 750 bikes, quoted Rs.7 crore, half of which would be funded by the PMC, and the other half would be raised through advertisement and corporate sponsorships. The actual rent would have been low, just enough to help in the maintenance of the bikes. However, after a year of running from pillar to post, the organisation could not find enough sponsors and hence had to give up the project. “No corporate was ready to fund us. They did not see the viability,” Mr. Janagam told The Hindu. He also tried approaching the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, (BMC), but its response was lukewarm.
After this failed attempt, the PMC did not start a new tendering process. PMC authorities refused to answer questions about the project.
While the PMC was toying with Mr. Janagam’s idea, another opportunity was missed. The World Bank, through the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), invited proposals to fund pilot bicycle sharing schemes from States engaged in the India Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP).
With hopes anew for the bicycle sharing scheme, Pune sent a proposal for innovative activities to encourage cycling. Three other proposals were received — from Mysore, Bhopal and Indore. “These were evaluated based on the criteria of demonstration potential, the level of preparedness of the proposed project, the ownership and capacity of implementing agency, and the decision was taken at the SUTP Steering Committee to provide Global Environment Facility (GEF) grant funds to Mysore for the project,” Nupur Gupta, Senior Transportation Specialist at the Word Bank, said.
Lessons from Pune
As more cities adopt the BRT, Pune’s lessons in the last eight years are relevant. This year, when Rajkot proposed a bicycle sharing scheme, it looked at Pune. “The revenue model was important. We felt that it was necessary to separate the operations from the advertisers, so that transparency can be maintained. The revenue from the rent barely covers a third of the operation costs,” Chris Kost, of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), said. The ITDP has conducted a feasibility study of the scheme, which the Rakjot municipality has submitted to the MoUD for approval. The cycle tracks will run along 10 km of the BRT corridor and cost Rs. 14.4 crore. “We have planned for around 1,500 cycles, as of now with 86 stations,” Mr. Kost said.
Lack of political and administrative enthusiasm is a major cause for the delay. “The Mayor of London was persistent to get the bicycle rent scheme in place, so we have the Barclay’s Cycle hire scheme. In India, it is not a high-profile project,” Shreya Gadepalli, Senior Program Director of the ITDP, said.