It is time to pedal your way around town

Is it not time for Bangaloreans to think of the bicycle for connectivity, a la Washington DC? A look at the feasibility back home by M.A. Siraj

With Washington DC promoting bicycles majorly for connectivity, can crowded cities such as Bangalore look at the possibility of replicating the idea? Let's take a look.

Several public interest bodies have been urging the city fathers of Bangalore to think of mass transport and eco-friendly private vehicles such as bicycles for last mile connectivity. But not much effort was seen on this front. Now that a Metro network is emerging in the city, the eco-friendly bike should also be thought of as an alternative to two- and four-wheeled automobiles for easy transportation.

A proposal to this effect by the public interest forum Praja is currently under consideration by the Department of Urban Land Transport in Karnataka (DULT), the new avatar of the BMLTA, for the central business district in Bangalore. Praja wants a dedicated bicycle track on the roads and place for bike docking stations.

Civic authorities in Bangalore need to take a cue from Washington DC which has launched a programme to make bicycles available to those who chuck cars in the core areas of the business district.

Bikeshare booths

A number of ‘bikeshare' booths have popped up all over Washington during the last nine months. The ‘Capital Bikeshare' programme was launched in September 2010 with feedback from an earlier 2007 pilot project, signalling a positive response from users. Embarking from the Metro at DuPont Circle, at the Capital Bikeshare station currently operated by Altabikes company, the Operations Manager, Eric Gilliland, explained the salient features.

The company has currently made available 1,000 bicycles for hire by users who ride them to their destination and leave them at the next such station. The sturdily built bicycles, imported from Canada, are available at 29 booths named ‘docks', located mainly around Metro (underground train) stations, malls and major office complexes. Users are supposed to buy tickets similar to ATM cards which are issued once the buyer's credentials are established. The bicycles are released with insertion of cards into the docks.

The tickets are priced at $5 a day or $15 for five days. Monthly and annual rental cards work out much cheaper and entice the users to opt for longer periodicity. However, the user can ride free for the first 30 minutes while longer use attracts additional charges on the ticket. The docks are solar-powered and even a four-hour solar heating in 24 hours is sufficient for locking mechanism of the docks to remain efficient.

Gilliland says bicycles from some of the busier stations are picked up fast with arrival of trains.

In order to equalise the distribution, ‘rebalancer' trucks are deployed to physically move the bicycles from depositing stations to demand points.

All bicycles are insured against accident or theft. However, only in three cases, the bicycles were reported missing and were relocated as kids had picked them up for fun rides.

During the nine months, only six collisions or crashes have been reported, none of them fatal.

No helmets are required in the DC area. iPhone applications enable the operators to locate the missing bicycles as well as availability of excess ones at particular stations.

No class barrier

Martin, a business representative, who has been using a bicycle for the last three months, says he requires it to move 20 blocks every day and saves substantially with the help of the $37 annual card of Bikeshare.

According to Gilliland, the gender ratio reveals 60:40 men vs. women users. Bikes are used by company directors, managers, courier boys, mailmen etc.

For any such programme to succeed in the Indian context, the people would need taming their vanity more than the availability of the infrastructure. Humble bikes, of course, are no substitute for social prestige associated with cars.

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