Nearly a year after the New Delhi Municipal Council introduced smart bicycles in the area under its jurisdiction, they have found a fair number of users, but lack of bike paths and safety concerns while riding on roads remain major issues, and the idea needs to be implemented across the whole city, finds Somrita Ghosh
When it comes to cycling around in a major city, the image that first springs to mind is of Amsterdam: bike paths and racks, little traffic, and locals and tourists going around on bicycles.
Delhi may not have similar biking infrastructure, but the New Delhi Municipal Council has taken a step towards making the national capital bicycle-friendly with the introduction of smart bicycles.
“New Delhi is connected by an exhaustive metro service network and metro commuters use their vehicles to reach metro stations from their homes or workplaces and vice versa. Last-mile connectivity to the metro network from the citizens’ homes and workplaces will lead to less dependence on personal vehicles and will encourage people to use public transport,” said a top NDMC official who did not wish to be named.
Last December, NDMC introduced 500 SmartBikes in the city to strengthen public transport in the area under its jurisdiction and provide better last-mile connectivity.
Work on the public bike-sharing service is being implemented under the public-private partnership model, and 50 bike stations have been set up.
“There were many reasons behind the introduction of smart cycles. The first was to decongest the city, as cycles require less space and can move through traffic. The more users adopt bicycles, it will bring down congestion on the roads.
The second was that it is a safe mode of transport, and the third was its health benefits. We want people to use cycles more to remain fit and healthy,” stated the official.
How the smart bike works
After downloading the mobile application, users may scan the QR code on the bike or enter the plate number displayed on each bike to receive a passcode to unlock the bike. The app shows locations where the bicycles are available and how many are there in the bike stations.
The bikes can be unlocked only via the app, between 6 am and 10 pm, and they have an electronic tracking system. “There is a GPRS system with the app and that helps the control room keep track of the person using the cycle. If anyone goes beyond the perimeter of the NDMC area, the person will immediately get a call from the control room and will be instructed to return to the area under NDMC,” the official said.
On reaching their destination, users have to park the bike in a designated parking area and lock the vehicle. The app shows bike stations that have an empty slot to park a bike.
The NDMC is not the first government body to take such an initiative in Delhi. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and North Delhi Municipal Corporation too have launched public bike-sharing services, but their vehicles are not smart bikes.
The NDMC has tied up with Hyderabad-based start-up SmartBike Mobility Pvt Ltd, which is providing the smart bikes and the associated technology. “This is the best technology we have got. The same technology is used in bicycles in the Netherlands and Germany. So far there has not been a single case where users have complained or we had to send back a bicycle. All the bikes are functioning smoothly,” the official said.
Currently, there are no designated bike paths on roads, and the NDMC is working on the matter. The official said that planning had already begun for having bike paths and it would be finalised soon.
The civic body is also taking steps to introduce a public e-scooter sharing service to provide a low-cost, flexible and environment-friendly mode of personalised public transport. The main objective of this project is to strengthen last-mile connectivity to supplement public transport and provide a sustainable zero-emission mode of personalised public transport.
While the SmartBikes are easy and comfortable to ride, the problem is that they cannot be parked just anywhere, and have to be returned to one of the bike stations.
This reporter took a ride on one of the smart bicycles and it was a good experience, with the brakes working fine and the gears helping one accelerate quickly.
One benefit of a bicycle is that one can ride it even on footpaths, provided they are wide enough and don’t have much pedestrian movement.
But while riding on the roads, there is always the fear of speeding two-wheelers and four-wheelers.
Sonali Roy, who lives near Jor Bagh, says that taking a tour of her neighbourhood on a SmartBike has become a ritual for her.
“I go for yoga classes in the morning, and when I return I take one of these cycles and go for a round. This has become a ritual now. The cycles are so comfortable to ride and have even got gears, which I can adjust according to my convenience. In the morning the roads are mostly empty, and I love going around. This is also kind of an exercise,” said Roy, who works as a software engineer, beaming as she parked the SmartBike near the Jor Bagh metro station.
Another user, Amit Sharan, who frequently visits the Barakhamba area for work, noted that the advantage of using the cycle was that it could be parked easily, be taken over footpaths, and one did not have to be stuck in a traffic jam.
“I keep visiting the Janpath and Barakhamba area for work. I don’t take my car nowadays because parking is a huge issue and my time would be spent looking for parking space. One day I took the metro, and while waiting for an autorickshaw, spotted the cycle and thought of giving it a try. I quickly downloaded the app and used it. Since then, whenever I come for work, I go for the cycles,” said Sharan.
One issue mentioned by almost everyone the reporter spoke to was safety. According to the bike users, riding on the roads during heavy traffic movement was risky.
“Although I am a good rider, you cannot trust the four-wheelers in Delhi. I would not even know if someone driving rashly hit me from behind, and there have been such cases. While the smart cycle concept is excellent, there should be cycle tracks or lanes too,” Sharan said.
Responding to such concerns, the NDMC official said: “We are looking into the safety aspect of users. There are plans for adding cycle helmets as well, and we will do that very soon. So far the initiative has gone exactly the way we planned it.”
Dr S Velmurugan, senior principal scientist and former head, Traffic Engineering and Safety Division, Central Road Research Institute, raised another issue.
The NDMC’s initiative is yet to reach a larger audience due to lack of publicity, he noted.
“I don’t think it has been publicised that well. Also, this is only for the NDMC area, so all cannot use it, and not for regular purposes. Another factor is that it is app-based. Although everyone uses a smartphone, downloading the app and then paying via plastic money may not be handled by all,” Velmurugan noted.