Cycles rather than pod taxis will help the city in achieving “last-mile connectivity without carbon emissions”.
While shaking off the pod taxi frenzy, building safer roads for cyclists must gain top priority.
The Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) recently announced that it was looking to scrap a proposed metro line under the third phase of the Namma Metro project and instead replace it with a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) or pod taxi system. It said that the PRT proposal was a part of its plan to provide the city with “last-mile connectivity without carbon emissions”. While it is good that the corporation is finally looking at last mile connectivity, the approach to it is, unfortunately, wrong.
Bengaluru’s public transport system is a largely bus-dominated one. With over 6,823 buses plying across 6,144 routes covering 11.7 lakh kilometres making 70,872 trips per day, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) is easily one of the largest intra-city public transport operators in the country. Buses are backed up by the 42 km-long Metro network operated by the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL).
However, many parts of the city go unconnected by public transport, which resulted in the city nurturing a two-wheeler culture, which has today evolved into an unhealthy reliance on cabs.
The Misguided Pod Taxi Plan
The city has been pursuing pod taxis with a frenzied approach. In May 2017, the BBMP had identified six stretches to build PRT systems, all of which were longer than 4 km. Of these, the stretch connecting JP Nagar 6 Phase to Jayanagar 4 Block would seem to be the best in terms of offering good connectivity. The former is a residential neighbourhood, while the latter is a commercial one. Jayanagar 4 block also happens to be a major transit hub with buses connecting major parts of the city passing through the Jayanagar Traffic and Transit Management Centre (TTMC). The Jayanagar Metro station on the Green Line is located slightly more than a km away.
But what about the rest of JP Nagar? How will they be connected? It is safe to assume that if the line is built, it would traverse along 11 Main Road in Jayanagar that turns into 24 Main Road in JP Nagar since it is the only road wide enough to handle the construction of pillars for the PRT. Like any other elevated project, the PRT cannot make use of any of the other narrow roads in the vicinity.
Even more worrying is the BBMP’s plan to do away with a metro line in favour of the PRT. The route in question, according to a Deccan Herald report, travels along the arterial Old Airport Road, a highly congested road that connects several defence establishments (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited or HAL, the National Aerospace Laboratories or NAL), major residential hubs such as Marathahalli and also opens up into Outer Ring Road which is a major Information Technology (IT) hub. Clearly, this route is not providing last-mile connectivity, but rather becoming a trunk line, ideally served by a higher-capacity system. There are numerous roads leading out of Old Airport Road such as Wind Tunnel Road and Suranjan Das Road that connect numerous localities located several kilometres away from the main road. Last mile connectivity would ideally be connecting these areas to a transit system.
Going Green, With A Cycle
Bengaluru is not a city known for cycling. While few good roads do exist for cyclists, a majority of the city’s roads are not navigable.
The city’s first tryst with cycling as a serious alternative to motor vehicles was shortly after the first leg of the Namma Metro opened up in 2011. A startup called Kebron Automation began offering bicycles on rent under the brand name ATCAG. Cycles were available at docking stations in major parts of the city and users only had to use a smart card to unlock and lock them. Simultaneously, Jayanagar saw the development of cycle lanes, where the periphery of roads was marked for cyclists. However, due to non-enforcement by the traffic police, the cycle lanes quickly turned into parking spots for motorised vehicles, and ultimately disappeared because they were not marked after the road was relaid.
The city’s roads which have become notorious for potholes over the last one year are not really conducive to cycling. Far from that, they’re also unsafe for those who use motorcycles. Many areas see roads falling into disrepair or being dug up for utility projects, while in other areas motorists don’t give cyclists any space at all.
However, cycling is slowly making a comeback in the city. Bike-sharing, as they are also known, is being popularised in the city with car-rental platform Zoomcar and ride-sharing major Ola leading the way. Unlike the ATCAG cycles, these dockless cycles merely require the user to install an app, and then unlock the cycle using a QR Code on them. The success of Zoomcar’s PEDL platform has also prompted them to invite people to host parking spaces.
So What Should The Government Do?
While there is no harm in the BBMP, and the government of Karnataka building PRT systems across the city, it must remembered that it isn’t really last-mile connectivity. While Pod Taxis can help in commutes across short distances and in providing connectivity to metro stations, the BBMP must focus on making the city’s roads safer for cyclists.
The BMRCL had earlier this year tied up with a private player to offer motorcycles on rent from metro stations. A similar arrangement was mirrored by the Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL), except that it was for cycles on rent.
The city’s agencies – BBMP, BMTC and BMRCL – need to coordinate and set up cycle parking lots across the city. They can be at major junctions that witness heavy footfalls, bus stations and metro stations. With multiple app-based cycle-sharing platforms coming up, a common parking area can be set up. Users can then pick up a cycle, depending on which app they use.
Cycle lanes need to be properly demarcated along major arterial roads. These lanes should ideally be physically separated to prevent cars and bikes from entering them. On smaller roads, they need not be physically demarcated, but in that case, the traffic police has to ensure that these lanes do not turn into parking lots.
The city needs to monitor its roads regularly and fix patches that could otherwise prove hazardous to cyclists. Along with these, more streetlights also need to be installed.
Cycling is a healthier alternative to taking out a bike or a car. Pod Taxis may sound like a great idea, but cycles form the real “last-mile connectivity with zero carbon emissions”.