Bengaluru: The Karnataka government aims to induce the culture of cycling in Bengaluru to reduce the ever-increasing traffic congestion, improve air quality and instil a sense of healthy living among its citizens.

The public bicycle sharing (PBS) system, which is the latest in a string of similar attempts, is scheduled to be introduced later this month. It aims to set up around 400 parking hubs and 125km of dedicated bicycle lanes in about 28 square km of the city in the first phase.

The government has roped in at least three private operators to provide the cycles and the technology.

Unlike the Mysuru model, which had docking systems, the PBS in Bengaluru can be dropped off in any one of the parking hubs, located within 300 metres of each other, as planned by the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT).

“We are not investing in the cycles or software. Our investments is only on cycling infrastructure," said N. Murali Krishna, a senior official at DULT, incharge of the PBS programme.

The government, which has set aside 80 crore for the scheme, is expected to launch more phases of PBS to cover the entire city depending on the feedback.

Bengaluru, the biggest city and the growth engine of Karnataka, is home to around 10 million people, a figure that is expected to double by 2031, according to the draft master plan.

Vehicular trips is expected to increase threefold in the same period, the report adds. The state government, which is already under immense pressure about existing inadequate infrastructure, has tried to channel investments into mass transit systems such as metro, suburban rail and bus networks among other modes. However, this has had little success.

Shamanth H, vice president (market expansion) at Metro Bikes (one of the three private operators), that already operates scooter and cycle rentals from metro stations in Bengaluru, charges around 10 per half hour for cycle usage (metro bikes tariff) and have subscription-wise tariffs as well.

However, cheaper rates alone are unlikely to get more people to use cycles, according to experts.

Schemes such as PBS failed because the government believes in engineering-driven approaches as against a community-driven one, said K.J.Sunil, a freelance engineer and director of Namma Nimma Cycle Foundation.

There is no holistic approach by the government for interconnectivity of cycle tracks, he said. A dedicated cycle track in Jayanagar, with only a line as the demarcator, is now taken up by motorists who use all of the road. The proposed dedicated cycle lanes would be at a level higher than the road to discourage motorists from using these spaces, said Krishna. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP, the city’s civic body) will be entrusted with the construction of these lanes. Experts say that modern day Bengaluru faces problems of last mile connectivity, forcing many to opt for private vehicles instead of depending on mass transport systems.

“Something like this (PBS) requires multiple steps to be taken together," said Ashwin Mahesh, urban infrastructure expert. Authorities must rise above traditional apologetic arguments such as ‘we have to start somewhere’, he said. The government must implement such schemes by first accepting that it is not meant for profit, despite the investments, he said. At least Rs2,000 crore should be invested in Non Motorised Transport schemes such as PBS, or it will wither away quickly, said Mahesh.

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