Chennai city bike scheme on a road to nowhere

As an initial step, the application requires users to scan the QR or enter the bike number. It then takes them through the main steps of renting a bicycle in English.

Published: 30th March 2023 11:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th March 2023 11:35 AM   |  A+A-

bike scheme

Lack of awareness among residents and unavailability near homes and offices are some of the drawbacks of the bike-sharing system | R Satish Babu

By Express News Service

CHENNAI:  The plan to expand the bike-sharing system to 52 new locations in the city has been stalled for a long time. Reason?

The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) is yet to finalise the new locations. With an average of only 200 to 300 rentals per day, experts believe it is time to look into what ails the scheme before going ahead with the expansion. Several stations, including Egmore and OMR, have only two or three bikes at present. According to officials, the bikes are mobilised to areas where they register higher daily rentals like Marina beach, Thiruvanmiyur, Besant Nagar and Pondy Bazaar. The stations in low-rental areas are seldom used.

One of the main flaws in the system is that it is exclusionary in its approach, neglecting a chunk of potential users who are intimidated by smartphones and online payment methods to be able to register and pay for the SmartBikes. As an initial step, the application requires users to scan the QR or enter the bike number. It then takes them through the main steps of renting a bicycle in English.

“Those who are into fitness usually have bicycles. There is, however, an opportunity for pedestrians who walk between their public transport connections and those looking for last-mile connectivity. But, they have to register through the mobile app, which may put a lot of people off,” said Sai Vignesh, who uses the bikes occasionally.

In places like Chandigarh, the public bike-sharing system register around 1,200 rentals a day with a much lesser metropolitan population of only around 16 lakh, when compared to Chennai’s 300 rentals for an estimated population of at least 85 lakh.

Shreya Gadepalli, the managing trustee of Urban Works Institute said what makes a public cycle-sharing system click across the globe, irrespective of the population, is a dense network that allows you to pick up a cycle within 300m of your residence or place of work.

“Also, in this case, the onus is completely on the operator to keep the project running. For it to be sustainable, the state government should financially support it,” Gadepalli said. “The project needs to be consistently marketed instead of making people wonder what it is when they see a docking station.

What will help apart from this, is putting out a map for the public transport and smart bike station network which will tell residents where they can pick up a bike if they arrive at a particular train station and where they might be able to drop it,” said Felix John, an avid cyclist and Chennai’s ‘bicycle mayor’. He added that a continuous network, especially in areas usually covered by share autos will give residents the option of cycling for short distances instead of paying around Rs 40.

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