A good public transport system supported by a bicycle sharing program for last mile connectivity can serve as a complete solution for solving urban transport issues in the cities. However, the implementation of a well-functioning bicycle sharing system has always been a challenge for the city managers. From the perspective of the city there are three major hurdles. First, high capital investment combined with the ongoing operations and maintenance costs[i] which barely are covered with subscription fees. Second, scarcity of land in the city to build enough parking stations at important nodes. And third, is efficient re-balancing of cycles according to the usage pattern restricting the availability of cycles[ii].
The advent of dock less public cycle sharing system in China reinvigorated the use of shared cycles as a solution for green commute in the cities. Traditionally, the bicycle sharing models relied on a docking system at the parking stations. The docks were capital intensive and constrained the number of cycles that could be parked at a particular station. The model also occupied considerable area at prime locations in the land scarce cities. On the other hand, the new dock less system reduces the capital requirements for the docks and also removes the necessity of defined land parcels. The cycles in the new system are fitted with IoT based GPS locks, which facilitates picking and dropping of cycles at any location. GPS based mobile applications with online payment integration have eased the process of cycle discovery and payments. The low price and ease of usability have facilitated the cycle sharing system to scale extensively. The long term attractive business proposition in the dock less system has also attracted venture capital for initial investments in capacity and innovation. The two large Chinese unicorns Ofo[iii] and Mobikes have managed to get investments of over $3Bn in just three years.
But the explosion of the dock less cycle system came with a downside too. The model seen as a boon to transit system became a menace for the streets[iv]. More than 2 million bikes are available for sharing in Beijing alone, clogging the streets and footpaths[v]. To manage the uncontrolled growth, cities have resorted to regulations. Seattle was one of the first cities that placed regulations and fines on the cycle sharing companies[vi]. In India, a similar system is yet to take off on a major scale. However, Palava is one of the first cities in India which has managed to implement a dock less bicycle sharing model successfully with minimal regulation through technology. This has been achieved by accommodating mixed mobility in the urban design of Palava combined with IoT innovations by partner Zoomcar.
Case study: PEDL in Palava
Taking a few cues from evolving megacities like Beijing in China and few other European cities, Palava has designed its own system of dock-less cycle sharing that might yet become a trendsetter for not only Mumbai, but other parts of India as well.
Figure 1: PEDL cycles in Palava
Palava is a privately built smart city by Lodha group, which can be seen as a blue print for the future Greenfield urban developments. The city is designed on the ‘concept of 5/10/15 minute walk’ where daily commute for reasons such as shopping, school, work place are at a walking distance from every residence. 80% of resident’s daily trips can be met by walking or bicycling in Palava.
Palava adopted a model for locating cycle stations at every 50 meters from a residence. All the main aggregation points of the city such as shopping mall/arcade, club houses, schools, and city manager’s office were covered. The stations were clearly demarcated on the ground and were geo-fenced. At the launch 30 stations were identified in the city with 200 cycles. Geo-fencing facilitated parking of cycles in the allotted areas and prevented a situation of clutter in the city.
Figure 2: Geo-fenced cycle station in Palava
The campaign for launch of cycle sharing was widely circulated through social media such as Facebook posts, watsapp messages, emails and SMS. The cause of cycling was taken up by Palava cycling club and other active social groups within Palava. The well-connected and closely knit communities in Palava were helpful in early adoption of the system post the launch.
Usage and Response
The initial response from the citizens for the service was overwhelming with an average ridership of 1500 trips per day. The novelty factor of using the service attracted many users to the platform. However, with time the usage saw a dip and eventually stabilized at 1000 trips per day. Out of the 30 stations, 8 stations contributed to 60% of the trips. These were mostly popular destinations like shopping arcades, club houses etc. The usage varied during the span of the day, the maximum ridership was in two peaks in the morning and evening. These peaks corresponded with the work commute trips and as well leisure trips for fitness.
The promotional price at the launch was set at INR 1 for 30 minutes hence there wasn’t much difference in the income levels of the users. There was a stark difference in the gender’s usage; only 4% of the females used the system compared to 11% for male. In terms of age structure distribution, the maximum users were in the age bracket of 22 to 35, which is also the largest cohort in Palava.
Figure 3: Weekday and weekend distribution
- The parking for dock less system needs to be controlled using system such as geo-fencing. This ensures that the cycles are parked in certain spaces allotted to them and are not cluttered all over the city. The initial geo-fenced station’s radius can be kept higher and then it can be slowly reduced as the people start getting habitual.
- Rebalancing the number of bicycles is very critical for smooth functioning and uptake of the cycle system. The usage pattern for the program at every station level has to be understood and should be subsequently programmed for rebalancing. If proper rebalancing is not done, then citizens will not be able to get cycles at the right place and at the right time. Hence, the whole objective of the sharing the resource might fail.
Figure 4: 24 Hour distribution of number of trips
- Since the mobile application has integrated payment mechanisms, it is easy to create an incentive system. Users could be incentivised with low rates during non-peak hours. Even extra credits can be given for rebalancing (that is taking cycles from unused stations to the highly used ones).
- Apart from the benefits of commute and health, the data collected from the trips made by the commuters gives valuable insights to urban planners and policy makers. The duration and length of the trips, origin-destination studies, time variance and demographics particularly are very useful for overall transport planning in the city[i].
By – Vaibhav Chugh, AGM (Strategy), Lodha Group