Biking in Bangalore

Carlin Carr, Bangalore Community Manager
Bangalore, 1 October 2014

Commuters in India's cities face any number of challenges — from severe traffic jams that can turn even a short journey into an hour’s trip to lack of last-mile options to major pollution. Bangalore is no different. Once known for its green areas and parks, the southern India megapolis has been ranked as the sixth most painful city in the world for traffic congestion. At rush hour, traffic creeps along at an average of 15 kilometers an hour. In an effort to curb growing commuter woes and to reverse the trend toward cars, more and more bicycling initiatives have sprung up around the city.

With an estimated 200,000 bicycles already on Bangalore's roads, the city inaugurated one of the country’s first urban cycle track along 22 roads in Jayanagar. The project, which was supported by the Department of Urban Land Transport (DULT), had great potential, but a Times of India article reported last year that just 17 months into the bike lane initiative, the tracks were taken over by parked vehicles. A member of the organization Ride a Cycle Foundation says in the article that the issue, like many in urban India, stems from lack of coordination among multiple agencies: "Right now, DULT does the planning, BBMP implements the work and traffic cops enforce the project on the ground. When there is little coordination between these agencies and in the absence of leadership to oversee them, projects like cycle tracks end up in limbo."

The failure of the bike lane initiative hasn't sidetracked the focus of three local entrepreneurs who have launched a pilot bike sharing program in the city. The group, Kerberon Automations, created the Automated Tracking and Control of Green Assets (ATCAG) bike share to offer an eco-friendly transit option to Bangalore's commuters. The project was undertaken with the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) and charges Rs. 300 ($5.00) per year for use of the bikes. However, to get the required smart card, which commuters use at the automated docking stations, proof of identity and residency is required — sometimes an obstacle for low-income city dwellers who often lack documentation.

"A public transport infrastructure such as this, if exploited fully, has the power to reduce automobile pollution, provide a budget transport option to commuters harassed by demanding auto drivers, and boost commuter fitness," says an article in the Bangalore Mirror.

Green commuting alternatives are cropping up around the city, but there are many barriers to their success. Mumbai's bike-sharing pilot, Cycle Chalao, failed due to lack of government support. Cycle Chalao's site says a final goodbye after trying to take its idea to Pune as well: "We tried to build bicycle sharing systems in India since 2010 but have not succeeded so far and are deciding to wind up our efforts and move ahead." While the ATCAG project has Bangalore's municipal commission behind it, another issue is cost effectiveness. "If cost (bike, operations, and maintenance) outweigh revenue, how is it sustainable?" asks the Bangalore Mirror. Chennai believes it is possible and is plowing forward with an ambitious plan. The race to become a model for green commuting initiatives is on around India. Only time will tell which city has both the political will and the citizen drive to make it work for all. Bangalore, it seems, has a good shot at crossing the finish line first.

Photo credit: Kerberon Automations

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