Mobility is crucial for human development and for the functioning of cities, and demands special attention in growing economies such as India. The number of cars on India's city streets is increasing rapidly, yet the automobile is rarely the best solution for their residents' mobility needs, in part because of the horrendous effects on human health due to motorised transportation that I outlined last week. While the evidence of these effects is piling up in academic studies, nothing much seems to be happening on the ground in India's cities. Two initiatives in Bangalore may however provide some inspiration.
The Namma Cycle service
Bangalore is home to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), established through the work of Jamsetji Tata in the early 20th century. Tata also founded what would later become India's largest industrial conglomerate, the Tata Group, which includes Tata Motors, manufacturer of Tata buses and trucks, major contributors to road accidents and traffic-related noise and air pollution in Indian cities.
The idea behind getting people to use and return a cycle within 30 minutes at zero cost has its roots in our philosophy of holding onto resources only for the duration that we really need, thus having enough for everyone with minimal resources.
Ironically one of the few places in Bangalore where you won't find these vehicles is the campus of the IISc. In August 2012, the Namma Cycle service was launched on the campus. The service was conceived four years earlier by an informal group of bicycle enthusiasts including Murali HR, who had been to Paris and seen its Vélib' bicycle sharing system.
Initially the group thought of launching such a service in the high-tech suburb Electronics City, but due to its chaotic traffic and lack of infrastructure it was deemed unsafe.
The university had previously tried to implement a similar system using the bicycles that students would leave behind when they graduated, but without proper management and maintenance people would simply abandon the bicycles whenever they got a flat tyre or other technical problem and in no time the campus was littered with defunct bicycles.
There are two ways of using the Namma service. One is as a registered user, which costs 100 rupees per month, entitling you to use the bicycles as often as you like, getting the first half-hour of each use for free. If you use it for longer, you pay five rupees for the second half-hour, another five rupees for the second hour, and 20 rupees for every hour after that. The other option is "pay as you go", where you pay five rupees for the first half-hour, another five rupees for the second half-hour, another 15 rupees for the second hour, and 20 rupees for every hour after that.
The progressive payment scheme is intended to encourage people to return the bicycle as soon as they are no longer using it. Murali said that the idea of the system is "sharing, not owning"; the more people who use the same bicycle the better. Namma in fact means "ours" in Kannada, the local language.
Lavanya Keshavamurthy, another member of the Namma Cycle team, says that "the idea behind getting people to use and return a cycle within 30 minutes at zero cost has its roots in our philosophy of holding onto resources only for the duration that we really need, thus having enough for everyone with minimal resources." "Cycling" may thus refer to both bicycling and recycling.
There are about 3,000 students, faculty and staff at the IISc, of which only a small proportion have become registered users, nevertheless during the first two months of operation more than 1,000 trips were made, 70% of which were less than half an hour.
The software used for registration and to keep track of the bicycles was developed by private research collective Gubbi Labs and is intended as open source software that can be used free of charge by similar services in other places. In fact the initiative at the IISc can be see as a pilot project, which may be implemented in other campuses and at the larger scale of the city. But for that to work, city authorities will need to provide safe roadspaces for bicycling. The City of Bangalore recently launched its own bicycle sharing service with a few small stations located at the new metro stations, but as there are no safe bicycle lanes around the stations and very few bicycle stations in the city, this service is hardly used at all.
New facilities and activities will probably be located close to the service. If well planned, the E-Mobility project may therefore not only help make the campus "greener" in terms of energy usage, but also help preserve existing green spaces.
The E-Mobility project
In addition to the cycles, the IISc is also planning an "E-Mobility" service based on extra-large electric golf carts that will shuttle along designated routes on its campus. According to Gururaja KV, a member of the group designing the project at the Center for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transport and Urban Planning, the inspiration is a similar service in the historical city of Hampi but it is also being used at Infosys' high-tech campus in Mysore.
The E-Mobility project seeks to address growing concerns over the increasing numbers of motor vehicles entering the campus each day. Today motor vehicles account for about 50% of all trips on campus while walking and bicycling make up the other 50%. Surveys indicate that even though one-third of campus trips are made by non-residents visiting the campus, two-thirds are made by campus residents between the residential areas (students' hostels and staff quarters) and areas such as the departmental buildings, canteens and the library. There are peak hours in the morning, around lunchtime, and in the late afternoon and evening.
The fact that demand is not equally distributed over space or time is a classic dilemma of transport planning, and solutions often result in either insufficient or excessive capacity. More complex operation schedules with varied frequencies for different time periods and different routes, and integration of the bicycle sharing service, may help solve this dilemma.
Switching from (private) vehicles running on gasoline or diesel to (public) vehicles running on electricity will reduce both air and noise pollution on campus. It will not, however, reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions if the electricity comes from the national grid as most electricity in India is produced by coal, which makes electrical vehicles potentially more harmful to the global environment than traditional motor vehicles. therefore it is hoped that solar panels can be installed on the roofs of the vehicles to make them self-sufficient.
Complementary, not competing services
Gururaja says that the aim is to make the campus free of polluting vehicles within the "next few years". To achieve this, the E-Mobility and Namma Cycle services must be seen as complementary rather than competing, and ideally planned and managed by the same entities. This may yield considerable operational benefits and make the services more user-friendly while expanding reach and increasing connectivity.
It may also help solve the capacity dilemma. Bicycles may for instance provide an alternative to e-vehicles during peak hours and be used to reach locations not served by them, while the vehicles may be a convenient alternative in bad weather.
Surveys indicate that the majority of potential users are willing to pay the proposed fare of five rupees per trip, which should be enough to cover operational costs. Capital costs, of which the investment in e-vehicles is by far the largest, may be partly recuperated through sponsoring and advertising.
How the routes are planned may play an important role in how the campus will develop in the future, as new facilities and activities will probably be located close to the service. If well planned, the E-Mobility project may therefore not only help make the campus "greener" in terms of energy usage, but also help preserve existing green spaces. A pollution-free system for deliveries and garbage collection on campus will also have to be invented. But with such an integrated solution, implemented in phases as an ongoing learning process (as befits a university), the campus of the IISc should become a great example of how to create healthy urban environments for human development.