In our previous post about the challenges of building metro rail in Indian cities, we wrote about the environmental organization Parisar and its work to resolve some tough issues, such as corruption and transparency, displacement of people, financing and costs, affordability, and lack of metro rail’s integration into existing urban transportation options. Now, the environmental organization is working to ensure the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) does the right thing as it prepares to accept bids for a new urban bike sharing program. PMC released a request-for-proposals this month and in August announced the plan.
Pune, a city with a population of about 3.5 million, seems to be an ideal location to develop a bike sharing program. The average trip length in the city is 8.4 kilometers and 80 percent of all non-motorized trips are less than six kilometers, according to PMC’s Comprehensive Mobility Plan.
PMC’s tender for an “Eco-Friendly Share & Ride Public Bicycle System” calls for bids that meet the following standards: 25 stations that will be relatively concentrated, 300 bikes, advertisements that generate revenue, a smartcard system and rental rates with the first half hour free (the first two hours would be free during the first year of the program.) The government also suggested that every cycle include a chain lock and well-conceived branding, including the name, logo, tagline, design of the cycles, stands/stations, uniforms, vehicles and website. The cost of membership is expected to be Rs 700 (processing fee and a refundable deposit included), which amounts to a little more than $15. The government says biking is “convenient and economical especially to and from railway [and] bus terminals, work places, educational institutions, etc.”
Parisar recently co-hosted a workshop with advocacy group Janwani in hopes of influencing the government’s bids for proposals, as well as improving the design of India’s burgeoning Public Bicycle System (PBS) plans, in general. The workshop was held in collaboration with the Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP) and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).
Journalists, cyclists, a representative of TI Cycles (a bicycle manufacturer) and members of civil society organizations attended the event, totaling about 50 people. However, no representatives from PMC attended the event. “The general lack of investment in the project, including their absence at the workshop, is a matter of concern,” says Parisar’s non-motorized transport expert Ranjit Gadgil, who communicated with TheCityFix via online chat.
Gadgil’s concerns are echoed by his colleagues. In September, Parisar and other cycling and pedestrian advocates issued a letter to Municpal Commissioner Shri. Mahesh Zagade, outlining some of their key cautions and recommendations for the project. “We believe such a system needs careful planning and attention to details for it to succeed,” they wrote. “Implementing the scheme in undue haste should be avoided.”
Similar lessons and suggestions came out of the Parisar-hosted workshop, including the following specifications:
- Bicycles should be available citywide, at least every 300 meters.
- Designs should be attractive in order to appeal to new riders.
- The system should be part of a larger transportation network and integrate with bus rapid transit (BRT) in Pune. (As an addendum, Parisar says the city of Pune needs a citywide transport plan, in general.)
- Designated staff at PMC should focus on improving and expanding the bike project.
Parisar analyzed the potential success of the program and found that 98 percent of people surveyed thought that bike sharing was “a good idea.” But there are still some doubts about whether the program will be successful.
One concern, Gadgil says, is a general lack of road safety in Pune. Also, the city’s absence of a dedicated team to improve the conditions of existing cycling infrastructure “may be a deterrent for the kind of enthusiasm for a PBS that has been seen in other cities.”
Another problem is that there has been some backlash against high-profile cases of public transit. “Pune has already had a bad experience with a poorly planned bus rapid transit system,” Gadgil says, “so transport groups are worried if the same might happen to the planned PBS.” (There are some glimmers of hope, though, with highly successful systems like Ahmedabad’s Janmarg BRT.)
To ensure high-quality bids, PMC has listed a number of stipulations. However, even though many of them are “bike sharing best practices,” some of them may end up imposing unnecessary burdens on the developer of the project or deter good candidates.
Parisar was involved in the tender write-up. “We were worried about a ‘genuine’ bidder,” he says, “especially since this is a bit of a shot in the dark in the absence of any [bike sharing] studies by the PMC.” One concern of Gadgil’s: What if bids come from companies that are less focused on creating a sustainable bike sharing program that promotes the social and environmental benefits of cycling but instead are “just in it for the advertisement revenue”? Such a bidder might “happily set up 25 cycle stations at prime locations in Pune, sit back and collect ad revenue without caring if anyone uses the system,” he says.
Considering these and other potential obstacles, Parisar is pushing for more experts to be involved as a “monitoring committee” to ensure successful planning and implementation.
That said, the rules for the company that ends up installing and running the bike system are very specific. “We put in all these ‘requirements’ to scare off the bad bidders, and hopefully the good ones will want to promote cycle rentals,” Gadgil says. “If they don’t achieve the set targets but are doing a good job and users are happy, the monitoring committee could take a lenient position.”
“The tender document basically says that the bidder must provide the infrastructure (the cycle stations, cycles and set-up – smart card system, etc.) and run the project and in return it will be able to keep the revenue from advertisement spaces (100 sq ft on each station) plus adverts on cycles and any other sources (promotions, etc) for the concession period, which is five years. At the end of five years, the operator hands over the infrastructure to the PMC. PMC will essentially provide the spaces for free.”
Smartly, Gadgil says the new PBS must be nurtured as it progresses, with a focus on learning lessons and tweaking the system. Unfortunately, the success of the program will hinge on the city’s “involvement and willingness to involve stakeholders and encourage the operator.” But the PMC has been “hands off” thus far, as demonstrated when city officials did not attend Parisar’s workshop or conduct any bike sharing surveys or feasibility studies. Who knows? PMC may eventually listen to input from the NGO sector in Pune, as organizations like Parisar continue to push for transparency, clear processes and clear authority over specific projects.
For more information, read the Times of India for a good run-down of Parisar’s workshop and plans for the system here.