Will Mysuru’s bike sharing system transform the way its citizens commute?

Trin-Trin, the country’s first city-wide public bicycle sharing system, has already seen 1300 registrations since its launch on June 4th. An interview with one of the key proponents reveals the details of the initiative.

There’s a new sound enlivening the streets of the busy, populous city of Mysuru in southern Karnataka, and it goes ‘Trin-Trin’. The city recently launched the country’s first city-wide public bicycle sharing system (PBS) under a project jointly funded by the World Bank, the Global Environmental Fund (GEF), the Mysuru City Corporation and the state directorate of urban land transport, better known as DULT.

Branded ‘Trin-Trin – Pedal with Pride’, the initiative sports a dense network of hubs consisting of bicycles, which individuals can share on a short term easy-rental basis. The Mysuru City Corporation owns and maintains the bicycles, while the project is being operated by Green Wheel Ride, a city-based manufacturer of eco-friendly bicycles.

There are 52 docking stations and 450 bicycles across the city, covering the core city in its first phase out of which 49 docking stations are currently operational.

PBS schemes allow people to borrow a bicycle from any hub and return it at any other hub in the system. Similar schemes have been tried and provided sustainable commuting options for citizens in around 600 cities around the world including Paris (Velib), London (Santander bicycles), Mexico City (Ecobici) and Hangzhou, China.

Can Trin-Trin do the same for Mysuru and provide a functional working model for cities across India, which are struggling to find alternatives to the predominantly motorised transport systems that create huge challenges for both road traffic management and the urban environment?

Citizen Matters chats with Sonal Kulkarni, Transport Planner and Anchor at the Advocacy, Communications and Participatory Planning Vertical of DULT Karnataka:

Tell us a bit about the genesis of Trin-Trin in Mysuru; how did the concept materialise?

The Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) has the mandate of planning, designing and facilitating implementation of sustainable mobility solutions in urban centers in Karnataka. DULT has been working towards a revival of cycling culture in ­­urban areas for the past few years.

As a part of its ongoing initiative, the Directorate gave its support to a small pilot on public bicycle sharing by a private company in M.G. Road to understand how the bicycle sharing project works. Subsequently, DULT commissioned a feasibility study to understand the feasibility of implementing a public bicycle sharing system in Mysuru.

It is pertinent to mention here that a few years prior to the commissioning of this study, the Mysuru City Corporation tried to implement a bicycle sharing system on a PPP mode. However, it did not get proper responses to the tender floated.

The feasibility study underlined the fact that in Mysuru, a public bicycle sharing system cannot sustain itself from revenues generated from user charges or revenue from advertisements, and therefore it is imperative for the State to step in with funding, to meet capital expenditure as well as operations and maintenance expenditure.

We at DULT felt that implementation of a public bicycle sharing system in Mysuru was a feasible proposition as the size of the city is small when compared to Bengaluru, and traffic is also more manageable. Mysuru is also a heritage city that attracts a sizable number of tourists, both from within and outside the country. It has a reasonably good cycling culture. It is in this background that DULT took the initiative to plan for the implementation of a public bicycle sharing system in Mysuru.

It is also relevant to mention that the DULT had earlier prepared a comprehensive traffic and transportation plan for Mysuru city. A public bicycle sharing system gelled with the overall strategy recommended in the comprehensive traffic and transportation plan for Mysuru.

Talking of financial viability, will the state bear the entire cost of the project then?

To begin with, a proposal was submitted to the Karnataka government for availing a grant from the Global Environmental Fund (GEF) under the World Bank-assisted sustainable urban transport programme of the Government of India. This was for partial funding of the project.

After obtaining the approval of the State Government and the Government of India, tenders were called in 2015, and the work order was issued in January 2016. The total project cost is Rs 20.52 crore, and it includes the capital cost and operations and maintenance cost for a period of five and half years.

The available GEF funding is Rs 10.4 crore. When we examined the financing model, we quickly realized that to make the system sustainable and to ensure that implementation does not suffer for want of funds for operations, it is important to adopt an innovative funding mechanism.

Therefore, DULT earmarked a corpus amount of Rs 3 crore for this project out of the State Urban Transport fund managed by it. We also negotiated successfully with the Mysuru City Corporation to ensure that Rs 2 crore is contributed by the Mysuru City Corporation to meet operation and maintenance costs. With the funding from GEF, the contributions of DULT and MCC and anticipated user charges, it has been possible to develop a viable financing model for the project.

There were reports on the initiative in media around mid 2016, whereas the formal launch took place only in the first week of June 2017. What was the delay due to?

The Trin-Trin project is the first city-wide bicycle sharing system anywhere in the country. Therefore, there was no Indian experience available to draw upon while planning, designing and implementing the system in Mysuru. The young team at DULT has therefore had to start from the drawing board for almost everything.

Each stage of implementation required detailed planning by DULT, the project management consultant appointed by the DULT, MCC and the selected operator. For example, the docking stations had to be located in such a way that there would be no obstruction for pedestrian movement on the footpath.

Detailed plans had to be developed for marketing. Software had to be customized taking into account specific requirements of the project. Connectivity had to be provided for data transfer; smart cards had to be designed, manpower recruited and trained and pilot testing done. Subsequently, trial runs had to be done to eliminate or minimise the possibility of glitches after commissioning of the system. These activities naturally take time.

Moreover, certain locations had to be shifted due to local issues and problems. These issues also needed to be resolved before construction of docking stations could start.

How have the authorities attempted to create the kind of awareness needed to make such initiatives successful?  How has the response been so far to Trin-Trin in terms of registrations, usage etc?

The scheme was launched formally in Mysuru on June 4 by the chief minister of Karnataka. In the run up to the launch, cyclothons and other events were organized to generate awareness and interest.

Participants at the cyclothon to Chamundi Hills, Mysuru. Pic: www.mytrintrin.com

Coinciding with the launch, DULT organized Cycle Day, an initiative to promote cycling. We located docking stations near the railway station, bus stands and the like to ensure that this public bicycle sharing system could be used to provide the much needed last mile connectivity.

Since the launch, the system has seen close to 1300 registrations. The people of Mysuru seem to have embraced the system and we have been seeing a gradual increase in the number of users with every passing day. We have also asked some of the cyclists of Mysuru Cycling Club to try out our system, and have received positive feedback from them about the make of the bike and the infrastructure itself.

There have been attempts to introduce public cycle sharing initiatives in other cities (for example Cycle Chalo, Pune), and in Bengaluru itself; But they have not really taken off in a big way or been very successful. Various challenges have been cited: lack of infrastructure, lack of lane discipline, safety hazards. How would these be addressed in Mysore? Were there any lessons learnt from the Bengaluru experiment that have been put to use in Mysore?

The public bicycle sharing initiative in Bengaluru was a small pilot and therefore learning from that system was of limited use while planning for Mysuru. The bicycle stations at metro stations were also not part of a network, and hence, served limited purpose.

The Mysuru bicycle sharing scheme has been planned from the beginning as a city-wide interconnected web of docking hubs and hence, is more comprehensive in its scope, reach and design.

DULT believes in E before I (Engagement before Infrastructure). Only when people buy into a certain philosophy do they actually respect and use the infrastructure provided, to the fullest extent and in the right way. One of the challenges that DULT has faced over time was the lack of critical mass of cyclists on our roads. Therefore, it started the Cycle day initiative in October, 2013 with many like-minded organizations like Praja RAAG, ESAF etc. to engage with the community for promotion of cycling.

More than 30 community partners have joined us in organizing the cycle day in their neighbourhoods in Bengaluru, and the number is growing. DULT has also released funds of Rs 3.45 crore to the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) to create cycling tracks in certain parts of the city.

In Mysuru, DULT has identified around 28.8 kms of dedicated cycle tracks in the areas covered by the docking stations, and has forwarded the detailed project report to the Mysuru City Corporation for implementation. We hope that within the next few months, we will be able to create this infrastructure.

We have requested the residents of Mysuru to try Trin trin and give us feedback so that we can improve the system as we expand in Mysuru or implement it in other cities. Citizens can write to us regarding the project and send us their feedback at dultbangalore@gmail.com.

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