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With an aim to encourage non-motorised transport, a new initiative has made available some 500 bicycles from 50 stations across Bhopal that citizens can freely use through a fully automated system

Actor Milind Soman, brand ambassador of India Vision Zero, inspects the dedicated cycle track before the launch of the public bike sharing system in Bhopal. (Photo courtesy WRI India)

Actor Milind Soman, brand ambassador of India Vision Zero, inspects the dedicated cycle track before the launch of the public bike sharing system in Bhopal. (Photo courtesy WRI India)

Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, recently launched India’s first fully automated bicycle sharing system as part of its second anniversary of the Smart Cities programme. This development comes just three weeks after Mysore launched the country’s first city level bicycle sharing project.

The Bhopal bicycle sharing system involves a fully automated bike sharing system of 500 bicycles with over 50 docking stations across the city, backed by a state-of-the-art IT system. The bike-sharing system covers three most important areas in Bhopal that include New Market, M.P.Nagar and Hoshangabad Road. As part of this completely automated system, users can pick up a cycle from any of the stations and deposit it at another station after use, without worrying about depositing it at the original location.

The bike sharing system of Bhopal has many firsts but here are three reasons why it can make bike sharing mainstream in India.

Integrated bike sharing system

The Bhopal Bike sharing system is the country’s first integrated and fully automated bicycle sharing system that connects MyBus, Bhopal’s Bus Rapid Transit System, with key residential and commercial nodes. This means that the bike sharing system could provide both first and last mile connectivity to the city bus system, improving its efficiency.

In addition to service integration, bike sharing offers flexible payment options, with one smart card that works for bike sharing, BRTS and bus services in Bhopal. Bhopal City Link Ltd. – the special purpose vehicle (SPV) is the single nodal agency that will oversee the operational monitoring of all the three modes, making it a great example of institutional integration of public transport modes.

Putting safety first

Pedestrians and cyclists comprise the largest number of road traffic crash victims in Indian cities. With road safety as a major concern, many cities in the country are wary about developing cycling facilities due to apprehensions regarding the safety of cyclists on the road. As part of the bike sharing project, Bhopal is developing physically segregated cycle tracks in the city.

Inaugurated along with the Public Bicycle Sharing (PBS) project, this will be a dedicated corridor 5 meters wide and 12 km long. Incidentally, this will also be the country’s widest physically segregated bicycle track. The city is also developing a 55 km long dedicated network of non-motorised transport, on which work is expected to start shortly.

Looking at the big picture

PBS is not a one-off project in Bhopal, but part of a targeted campaign to promote walking and cycling in the city, that was kicked off with Raahgiri Day in September 2014. This campaign has resulted in sections of main streets being closed off to vehicles, such that people can engage in various physical activities like walking and cycling.

The success of Raahgiri demonstrated that people were ready for a relook at cycling. In addition, the city is using the concept of ‘tactical urbanism’ to reimagine its streets and public spaces so that they can be more people friendly. Bhopal is also in the initial stages of planning its first “smart street” project as part of this initiative.

The year 2017 is the 200th anniversary of cycling in the world and this humble mode of transport that went out of fashion and usage due to the growing onslaught of motorisation, is gradually coming back — and for good. It is expected that what Vélib did to bike sharing in Europe, Bhopal PBS can do the same for India. However, a lot will depend on its successful operation and implementation.

This article first appeared on WRI Blogs.

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