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‘Namma Cycle’ for a pollution-free city

A Namma Cycle parking bay  

Though not a whopping success, the ‘Namma Cycle’ programme by the Ride-a-Cycle Foundation on the 400-acre campus of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, is making steady headway. Started some 18 months ago, ‘Namma Cycle’ was conceived for the IISC campus by H.R. Murali, a software consultant, convinced that the Bangalore’s main thoroughfares were not friendly with the most environment-friendly mode of personal transport.

Though most little towns in India have bicycle renting shops, bicycle-sharing is yet to emerge as a civic facility. So when Murali thought of the bicycle-sharing programme, he set his eyes upon the sylvan campus of the IISc. where users will be amenable to opting for an alternative mode of transport for a short and smooth ride on the hassle-free roads. The campus has 40 departments, nine men’s hostels, five women’s hostels, a swimming pool, a sports complex, an airstrip, six canteens, five dining halls, a multi-cuisine restaurant and two shopping areas. To date, the programme that began with 100 bicycles has booked as many as 400 permanent subscribers and logged in 18,000 trips, averaging 1,000 trips a month.

A hard-core pragmatist, Murali is not very hopeful about the programme being financially sustainable. He says that in order to be sustainable, larger campuses, perhaps sprawling over 1,000 acres, would be more desirable. Perhaps, the GKVK can be the only other campus in Bangalore that fits the bill. His overtures to the Bangalore University for such a programme on its Jnanabharathi campus at Kengeri got lost in the politics that typifies the University administration and did not go beyond the proposal stage.

Yet, the social benefits are there for everyone to see. To begin with, bicycles are a cheaper mode of transport with low investment. With no exhaust and fumes, they are environment-friendly. Cycling is a form of exercise which combines two functions i.e., transportation with contribution to physical fitness.

Feeder service

Bicycles claim less space whether moving or parked. Finally, there is no consumption of fossil fuels, thereby no cost of operation. In view of the social benefits, Murali would like the government to create adequate infrastructure to develop cycling as a feeder service to other transport modes. He considers the bike-sharing programme as ideal for last-mile connectivity in cities.

The Ride-a-Cycle Foundation conducted a survey to analyse travel patterns and user preferences prior to the launching of the programme. Eighty five per cent of the students wanted a cycling facility at the Institute. Fifty per cent of the students said they spent less than 10 minutes on exercise every day.

As for the pattern of use, most students wanted bicycles to go to banks, restaurants, canteens, post office and reservation counters. They felt the bicycles would be the most ideal utility to reach any place within the campus. Youngsters were delighted that such a scheme was going to be implemented and contract workers were happier than others as their tenure was temporary in the Institute. Some of the senior professors wanted electric bicycles while some others had expressed fear about the safety of the bicycles and the riders.

Though fully automated systems such as the Bike-share Programme in Washington DC or Velib in Paris fancied him, Murali opted for a semi-automatic system which was more suited to the Indian context.

Subscription

In order to be a regular user, an individual needs to first register himself for a Near Field Contact (NFC) Card at Rs. 50. A subscription of Rs. 100 allows the NFC card-holder to take out a bicycle free for as many trips of 30 minutes as he can. But if the trip exceeds this period, he will have to pay at the rate of Rs. 5 for one hour, Rs. 15 for up to two hours and Rs. 20 for every additional hour. Currently, the programme has five stations on the campus i.e., CiSTUP, Aerospace, Devecha (i.e., Dept of Climate Change Study), Hostel, and Guest House.

Murali has been clear about the exploratory and experimental nature of the programme ever since he submitted his proposal to the Centre for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transport and Urban Planning (CiSTUP). The initial investment for setting up automatic docking stations at five points came through donations from BESCOM and Cigma Aldrich Chemical Company and the bicycles were gifted by T.I. Cycles India.

All that the user with an NFC card has to do is to swipe the card at the docking station and touch the bicycle with the card to register timings. He can take the bicycle anywhere on the campus and leave it at the nearest of the five stations where the used tenure gets registered.

Murali says over the period, the programme has made some progress in that the renting transaction time has been brought down from 30 seconds earlier to a mere two seconds now.

He started with a tablet for registration, but now a mobile apps serves the purpose. Some senior professors had expressed the desire for electric bicycles, hence a few operated by lithium batteries were also introduced.

He is however looking for sturdier bicycles and is in the process of developing a motorised trailer for redistribution of bicycles from one station to another (when more bicycles than the docks arrive at a station). Currently, they are being moved by a non-motorised trailer that can carry five bicycles.

Namma Cycle employs 10 people, which include five station managers, two mechanics, an operation manager and a supervisor.

MoU signed

According to Murali, five to seven bicycles were lost due to inadequate monitoring and five became defunct. He says they are more popular among the female users. The programme is being run under an MoU signed between CiSTUP of the IISc. and the Ride-a-Cycle Foundation with strategic and technical support from EMBARQ India and Gubbi Labs.

Murali is eyeing IIT campuses and other larger facilities within the country to expand the experiment. The Namma Cycle Brief Update mentions that nearly 90 American Universities, from the University of New York to University of Alaska, Anchorage, offer some sort of campus bike-sharing programmes.

(The author can be reached at maqsiraj@gmail.com)


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Printable version | Sep 13, 2021 3:58:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/namma-cycle-for-a-pollutionfree-city/article5586200.ece

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