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28.02.2018

Earlier this year, Bangalore’s Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) promised to make 10,000 bicycles bloom around the city in the first phase of their long-discussed public bicycle-sharing (PBS) system. Many front wheels spun in excitement: here, we thought, was the answer to our dismal last mile connectivity, surge cab pricing and lack of parking. Excited, we rang the DULT offices every day for two weeks to ask them when they’d be starting up.

So far, the best answer we’ve got is a mumble about “sometime in early April.” Over our many pestering calls, however, we’ve assembled a fair picture of why the geeks overseeing the system are patting themselves on the back. Call it a success at DULT-ing.

Pro-tech Ya Neck

In short, they’re thrilled about their tech. (Oh, Bangalore boys.) The encouraging success of Trin Trin in Mysore paved the path for its counterpart in this city. However, while the Mysore system relies heavily on cycle parking infrastructure funded by the World Bank, our wheels will be greased by a new dock-less technology. “This is a much more mature system that is not infrastructure heav,” explains Mr Murali Krishna, special officer at DULT. “Pick up and drop off locations will be geo-mapped, allowing riders to access information on their phones through the app or directly on the bikes. The apps will also allow you to lock and unlock the cycles and a meter reading will ring up the cost for distance at the end of your ride.”

Ten “aggregators” will help push the project off the mark, including local start-ups Yulu Bikes, Enfrien Innovations, Zoomcar Pedl, and Green Wheel Ride. Each company will use its own individual platform to support its business; commuters get to choose the app that is the best fit for them. While Ofo aims to provide an entirely dock-less experience for riders, Yulu Bikes service will also employ the parking station module. (For the first six clusters around the city, DULT has already identified 400 stations.) This tandem action will also offer riders a variety of bikes to choose from: MTBs, geared cycles, and city and track bikes, and more.

Spokémon

Among the aggregators waiting on their marks is a Beijing start-up named Ofo, which is currently running trials on closed campus circuits. Ofo will let users pre-book cycles to be delivered to their current location, and turn off billing at their end destination. The firm’s director of communications, Rajashri Sahai, says Ofo has been part of projects like these in over 21 countries, and that dock-less technology will put Bangalore’s PBS in the same league as London, Paris and New York. “The back end of this technology involves a re-balancing model to ensure that bikes are not disparately populated in one locality,” he explains. “To this end will have a very active on-ground team that will keep track of all cycles.”

Yulu Bikes currently has operations in Pune and Bangalore, with an already active support staff. They’re going to use the government data on geo-mapping and stipulated parking areas to dock bikes for easy and constant access. (Both Ofo and Yulu will need you to download their apps.) “Our users can always pick up bikes from our various dock stations, but they’ll also be able to locate other bikes closer to them using the GPS tracking. Our teams will ensure that bikes that aren’t picked up are returned to the stations,” co-Founder and CEO Amit Gupta says.

DULT hasn’t just been co-ordinating efforts with these companies -- one of its big jobs has been working with other city agencies, identifying spaces within government properties as parking stations. Some of these locations include Kanteerava Stadium opposite Mallya Hospital, State Library compound in Cubbon Park, KSCA, the footpath opposite Coffee Day on Cunningham Road, Kittur Chennama Park in Wilson Garden, BDA Complex in Indiranagar, Ravindra Kalakshetra on JC Road, the footpath outside Maharani’s College gate and Domlur Park.

Since there’s no need for on-location tech support, the infrastructure bills won’t hurt badly. We’re still not sure how PBS will work as a social experiment, though -- how do you ensure that commuters don’t strew the city’s footpaths with unmanned bikes, as was the complaint in Washington DC? “We need to make PBS second nature for the citizens,” Rajashri from Ofo says. “Our app promotes good behavior, users get credit for correct parking and lose points for carelessness.” Guidelines are one thing. Our roads are another. “We certainly need more and marked cycle lanes and government conducted awareness programmes as well to spread the word,” he says. Wheel co-sign that.

This story was contributed by Anjana Appanna.

Photo Credit: Sanjay Jhawar

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