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Cycle home with a leg-up from Centre

- Guidelines out for bike-sharing scheme, ball in state court

New Delhi, Dec. 2: The Centre has pedalled some way towards a public cycle-sharing scheme by issuing guidelines that lay down the broad contours of the plan.

The scheme is being pitched as a “flexible form of public transport” that aims to make cycling cool and an option for the affluent instead of only being the poor man’s choice.

The guidelines were brought out last month by the urban development ministry, which has been working on the scheme for over a year. The Centre will provide financial assistance to states for the plan but it will be up to them to visualise and implement the project.

The norms compare the plan with easing traffic congestion through some of the traditional, but high-cost, methods. “A sharing system with high-quality 5,000 cycles can be implemented for Rs 40 crore. Many cities are ready to spend more than this on a single flyover,” the guidelines say.

Another key aim of the scheme is to solve last-mile connectivity problems, such as heading home from rail stations and bus stops, against the backdrop of rising vehicle pollution.

The idea is to set up “cycle stations” every 300 metres to ensure they are as convenient as finding autos — often the final link in the weak transport chain not unfamiliar in cities like Calcutta.

The bikes can be picked up from a cycle station at a key junction and left at another closest to the user’s home.

The government plans to keep the user fee nominal, almost on a par with parking rates. The ministry has suggested that for the first half-hour, the rate can be Rs 5. In London, one of the cities worldwide where such a scheme has been running, no charge is levied for that duration.

But a security deposit to guard against theft and damage is a feature of such schemes.

In some nations, the user fee is paid by credit card to ensure the authorities can recover cost of the cycle in case of theft by charging the card.

But in India, such options are limited because card use is not as widespread as in the West. The plan is to adopt the Chinese model, where a deposit is kept with the government. The deposit will be a little less than the cycle’s actual cost.

The largest of such sharing systems are in Hangzhou and Shanghai in China, where cycling is popular. In the West, the list includes besides London, Paris, Barcelona and Boston. Over 200 cities across the world have such schemes, and more are getting off the block each year.

The guidelines also lay stress on looks and design. This is to ensure the cycles are not only functional but are also seen as smart options.

India has a large number of cyclists, but they mainly comprise those who cannot afford other modes.

“Cycle sharing is not necessarily for the poorest of the poor but an alternative for short trips done by para-transit (transport without fixed routes or schedules), bus or walking,” the guidelines state.

The “critical aim is to attract new users who would not otherwise use cycles”.