Public bicycle sharing has not really taken off in the Capital, with only a sprinkling of tourists and students availing of the facility, that too on weekends
It’s a bright Sunday morning and you’re in the Metro, feeling good about how empty it is. You get a seat, reach your destination, exit the station and across the road bustling with traffic, your eyes fall on a line of green cycles.
Arranged neatly next to each other on a metal structure which looks like a sheltered stand, you wonder whether these are for public use. Naseeb, 24, the man guarding the stand, tells you they are and the charges are Rs 10 an hour. He tells you that you’re the first one to come today to ask for a cycle.
“Who will ride a bicycle on a weekday in this heat? It’s mostly on Sundays that people come and take it,” says Naseeb, who is sitting idly in the scorching heat because he has no work to do except look after the eco-friendly form of transport.
He says he gets busy for a little while and a bit more on the weekends, when tourists and local students want to explore the beautiful lanes of Lutyens Delhi on a breezy Sunday morning.
A half-hour wait at each such stand in localities like Lajpat Nagar, Jangpura, ITO and Mandi House turns out to be fruitless. Not a single person comes to ask for these snazzy cycles waiting for a rider. It seems to be quite an indictment of the bicycle sharing system in Delhi.
Public bicycle sharing is an imported concept designed to make commuting in the city easy and provide last mile connectivity. It has hardly endeared itself to the public as a reliable way to commute from Metro stations and bus stops to nearby destinations. When it was gearing up for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the then government of Delhi thought that this would be a value addition to the new infrastructure being built up in the city. It was started to create an eco-friendly environment near the now dismantled Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor.
The Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS), a joint-venture company of government of Delhi, was appointed to manage the BRT corridor. To generate revenue, it signed an agreement with Planet Advertising, and gave the responsibility to build, operate and manage these cycle stations.
However, the BRT system received heavy flak for the difficulty of access to the bus platforms in the middle of the road. BRT was axed but the public bicycle sharing stands survived.
With GreenBIKE by Planet Advertising being the first, the service was started for the public in 2009. Gradually, other players like Greenolution and Greenride started offering their services.
Today there 40+ such stations across 14 locations in Delhi. “We are currently working to expand the service and add more stands,” says Akash, general manager of Planet Advertising. He declined to reveal the exact number of cycle stands they will open in the future.
In order to get a cycle from one of these stands, one has to first register through the app or the website, following which a smart card is issued to registered users.
After completing this, one can go to the nearest dock and rent the cycle. A cycle taken from one station can be returned to another station too. All at a nominal cost of Rs 10 per hour.
The Planet GreenBIKE app on the Google PlayStore has only 100 downloads and the website shows some error. If the procedure involves first registering through the app, then going by the numbers only a 100 people got lucky.
“Some people also submit their IDs as proof to me and take the cycle. I don’t know if they have registered through the app,” says Ganesh Mandal, 51, who manages the bicycles at the GreenBIKE stand in Lajpat Nagar.
This migrant from Bihar exudes an air of being dedicated to his job. Mandal has to sit for 12 hours under the shade and oversee the bicycles, his only work and source of income. He gets Rs 7,500 per month and since he can’t afford a place to live, he sleeps behind the stand in a makeshift tent.
Mandal feels that the quality of these bicycles is not that great, but that’s his personal opinion. He says, “Often problems like brake failure or some other thing happens.” He shows off a green screwdriver, saying most of the time he tweaks the bicycles himself.
At other stands, the managers say that a maintenance guy comes frequently on call. Karan, who manages the bike stand at ITO, speaks about the frequency of riders. “During Sunday mornings, some people come and roam around nearby areas like Old Delhi on these bicycles.”
The old cycles became non-usable a month ago. After a few weeks, 16 new cycles were delivered at the stand. Just as Karan was talking about the cycles, a young couple stopped at the stand, looked at the brand new cycles, and discussed among themselves about taking one, but dropped the idea, citing the heat.
Besides the weather, road accidents also deter cyclists in Indian cities. As per the data provided by Delhi Police, from January to 31st August, 35 cyclists died in 2018 alone. For the year 2017, the figure was 65. Even at these public bicycle sharing stands, there’s no facility to provide users with helmets.
A 2009 Global Status Report on Road Safety released by the World Health Organization says that about half a million pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are killed every year around the world. It also says that by the year 2030, the fifth leading cause of death in the world will be — road accidents.
“We think of building overbridges in the city. But we don’t give a thought to making bicycling lanes,” says Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of Centre for Science and Environment.
Very articulately he says that the government cannot do much to promote the culture of public sharing bicycling because there is no infrastructure to back the idea. He points out that the entire city has hardly any bicycle lanes. According to him it is a fundamental issue wherein the bicyclists and pedestrians are not safe.
“You never know when a car may hit you while you’re riding a bicycle on the road,” says Bhushan about safety of bicyclists in the city.
About the public bicycle sharing stops in the city like Planet GreenBIKE, Bhushan says, “They are considered as nice examples and good initiatives but they will not become mainstream because of lack of infrastructure to support them.”
According to him, a walking and bicycling city requires a completely different mindset, for which Delhi is not ready yet. He gave an example of how London has a seamless public bicycle sharing system, where once can easily rely on taking the cycle and Tube (Metro) to go anywhere.
At the bicycle stand in Andrews Ganj, a case of three stolen cycles also occurred. Two of the cycles which were stolen on Saturday night were found the next morning lying on the road in Lajpat Nagar area.
“We don’t know who took them. But it happened in the night and we’re still looking for the remaining one,” says a person at the Andrews Ganj stand who requests anonymity. Surprisingly, a team of 7-8 people are looking for this missing cycle. At all the stands, the cycles are aligned together and bound with a strong iron chain, making it a mystery how they could be stolen.
At the GreenBIKE stand in Mandi House too, stand manager Kaushik Sharma says that it is mostly tourists and students who make use of the cycles. “Artists who come for shows in the area also take the cycles. Some students also go to a nearby cybercafé taking the cycles from us. The stand is hardly visible from the front because of huge plants shielding them from view.
Vishal (name changed) a student and a cycling enthusiast says, “I often see motorbikes and once an auto too in the cycling lane.” He says rules are hardly followed by commuters and when it comes to cyclists, they often face problems.
The vehicular population is said to be around 10 million in Delhi. With not much space on the roads and cycle tracks being encroached upon by street vendors and motor vehicles, cyclists are often at risk.
Other cities in the world like Copenhagen are already ahead when it comes to creating infrastructure for cycling. The city has eight cycle super highways covering a total of 260 km, and 60 per cent of all trips less than 5 km are made by bike.