Several cities in India, which have seen an unprecedented surge in urban populations, are preparing the launch of a bike-sharing system in an attempt to ease traffic congestion and deadly air pollution.
The systems are part of the federally-funded Smart Cities programme, implemented by Bhopal Smart City Corporation, which aims to improve services in 100 cities across India such as public transport and internet connectivity.
Bike-sharing systems in the cities of Mysuru and Bhopal, launched in June 2017, have already shown promise in reducing levels of traffic and pollution and have become popular with urban residents.
Mysuru was the first to introduce the programme, with registered users able to rent any of the 450 bikes from 48 docking stations.
In Bhopal, users have access to 500 bikes from 60 docking stations and can register onto the programme through their smartphones.
The World Resources Institute (WRI) provided technical expertise to the Bhopal Municipal Corporation during the system’s creation and the city now has 11km of dedicated bike lines.
In the programme’s first few months, over 25,000 people registered, half of whom were women, reported the Director of Transport at WRI India, Amit Bhatt.
The programme’s success, said Bhatt, was reliant on making it look both cool and safe.
Cycling is generally looked down on in India, so good-quality bikes with a mobile app to access the programme was essential to counter the stigma.
More importantly, dedicated bike lanes made safety a priority and encouraged people to test out the programme.
Bengaluru, Pune, Bhubaneswar and three other cities are now drawing up similar plans, according to the World Resources Institute.
Bhatt warned Indian officials that they must take care not to allow the unchecked growth of bike-sharing firms; in China this oversight led to large numbers of bikes piling up on sidewalks.
Government data shows that passenger vehicle ownership in India has almost tripled in the last ten years due to rising incomes and a growing young population.
Traffic congestion is common and transit systems struggle to cope with demand.
Vehicle emissions contribute to nearly a third of India’s air pollution, which the World Health Organisation says has almost half the globe’s 20 most polluted cities.
There are an estimated 2.5 million pollution-related deaths in India every year.
The Chief Executive of Bhopal Smart City Corporation, Chandramauli Shukla, told Reuters: "Bike sharing is a viable option for Indian cities - we just need good-quality bikes, dedicated lanes and a system that is efficient."