Known for being the health zone of the city, Beach Road recently woke up to the happy sight of dozens of bicycles in bright shades of blue and yellow parked at stations across the scenic coastal stretch. Morning walkers, who were greeted with the bicycle stations during their daily routine, were the most excited. Many took the first free rides of what is said to be Andhra Pradesh’s first unique bike-sharing concept introduced on a pilot basis in Visakhapatnam recently.
Thanks to an initiative of the Greater Visakhapatnam Smart City Corporation Limited (GVSCCL), 100 bicycles across four stations — YMCA, Pandurangapuram, Kalimata Temple and Veerabrahmendra Swamy statue — are operating on Beach Road under the Vizag Smart City project.
With features like smart lock system, adjustable saddles, anti-rust parts, sturdy duty basket and puncture proof tires, these cycles were given for a free 30-minute ride during the first five days and can now be hired for a nominal fee.
Hardly a week since the launch, the bicycles are already catching people’s attention and attracting youngsters due to their swanky look. “It is a nice idea towards encouraging people to take up a health-friendly and greener mode of transport. This will get people motivated to ride bicycles. I am waiting for it to be rolled out to other locations so that I can make cycling a regular habit for my daily work,” says V Aishwarya, who graduated from GITAM University recently.
She was among the first to try the free ride along with her two friends. “It’s a dream come true for me! Riding a bicycle on Beach Road with my friends was always on my wish-list. These bicycles are very comfortable to ride,” says P Meenakshi, a student.
The smart Hexi bike that is equipped with GPS and anti-theft technology can be taken for a ride on Beach Road and dropped at the nearest station.
“The initiative was planned for improving a non-motorised transport system in the city. In order to give people a feel of it, we have started a free five-day trial. In the next couple of months, a full-fledged bike sharing programme will be rolled out with 800 bicycles in 80 stations,” says Commissioner of Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, M Hari Narayanan. While at present there are four bicycle stations, three more will be set up shortly along the Children’s Park and Naval Coastal Battery stretch.
To sign up for a ride one needs to download the Hexi mobile application and get registered with a phone number. The smart cycles can be unlocked by a QR Code in the application. The payment can be done through a digital wallet or credit card.
While it is still early days, the response has been heartening. Perhaps this will signal a change in the mindset in a country, where creating infrastructure for cycling tends to be overshadowed by growing urbanization.
Visakhapatnam is the latest city to join this bicycle-sharing initiative. Other cities like Mysuru and Bhopal, who were among the firsts to roll out the bike sharing system, are already discovering the virtues of this greener mobility alternative. However, the bigger question remains as to whether this initial euphoria can be sustained for the long-term.
Experts point out that critical factors like safer street design, dedicated bicycle lane, and other rules should be in place for the project to be sustainable.
“Currently, the proposal of the vendor is being reviewed. We are still working on certain modalities. We eventually plan to identify roads where we can have dedicated bicycle lanes and come up with guidelines that need to be legally enforced,” says Lt Col L Shri Harsha, deputy programme director and construction head, GVSCCL. The project is implemented on a 10-year contract term with Hexi bike at a total cost of Rs. 2.6 crore.
“The bigger challenge is to see how people take to it once it becomes a paid service,” says Lt Col Harsha. A nominal fee of Rs. 10 will be charged for half an hour and Rs. 20 for an hour and a fee of Rs. 350 for eight hours and above. Once it is fully operational, the bicycles will be available all through the day and night for users. A dedicated team will be deployed to track the number of cycles in each station and monitor load balancing of the bicycles depending on the demand at a given area.
The idea behind introducing the bike-sharing concept is to eventually see an increase in the number of cyclists over the next few months and a hope that a small step will lead to a mass movement one day.
Source: The Hindu