The United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared June 3 to be observed as World Bicycle Day to recognise the contribution to green and affordable forms of public transportation. Indian cities have lately undertaken various Non Motorised Transport (NMT) initiatives to advocate for and implement safer streets for active mobility, but it is important to take a look at where we stand. As per NFHS data, about 43% of urban households own a bicycle, which is nearly half the population. However, the reality of Indian cities is that we are still motor-centric in planning our roads, thereby focusing on road widening and building highways rather than prioritising people-centric designs for urban roads. As per MoRTH data in 2022, there were 3,003 bicycle accidents reported and 1,445 fatalities. Indian roads are unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, with mostly no Right of Way (RoW) given to these road users. 

With the introduction of the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP), 2006, there was a shift in focus as the policy asserted “moving people rather than vehicles,” thereby encouraging cities to adopt initiatives and projects to promote walking and cycling. The Cycles4Change Challenge by the Smart Cities Mission, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), has also nudged many cities, such as Chennai, Bangalore, Vadodara, Chandigarh, Surat, and Pimpri Chinchwad, to adopt and encourage cycle friendy infrastructure. However, the policy level implementation under this programme is still a hassle. Cities are still far behind in the timely implementation of NMT policies and ensuring dedicated cycle tracks to ensure safety for cyclists and promote green infrastructure.

In 2014, the Greater Chennai Corporation became the first in India to implement an NMT Policy, indicating a decline in active mobility such as walking and cycling and a safer network of cycle tracks, footpaths, greenery, etc. But after a decade of implementation, this policy still remains largely on paper. The KK Nagar cycle track, which was the first dedicated cycle track laid in 2018, serves nothing but stretch filled with potholes today. Instances of civic work, such as stormwater drain work and digging by the electricity board, have resulted in a lack of continuity and improper planning of these initiatives. The lack of coordination between various government departments and nodal agencies has resulted in unsafe cycling spaces. It was also pointed out that in stakeholder consultation by the Highways Department for transforming existing roads into smart urban roads, the presented design failed to incorporate cyclists and it was also mentioned that it would be taken up only if there is sufficient space. This brings us back to the argument of the need for an NMT policy when those in power are yet to be sensitised on the need to prioritise active mobility. In Bengaluru, the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT), Karnataka, released an official draft of the Active Mobility Bill on 30 December 2021. However, even after two years, this bill is yet to be implemented. This is especially necessary in million plus cities that are choked with vehicular congestion and unsafe pedestrian spaces.

Recently, Kochi Metro Rail Limited is also facing a roadblock in implementing its Rs 116 crore NMT project due to a lack of support from other government departments such as police, RTO, Municipal Corporation, etc. Various utilities provided by the government as well as private providers, such as poles, advertisement boards, and construction, are encroached upon these stretches, making the implementation of the NMT corridors a challenge. This has resulted in uneven footpaths, lack of continuity and unsafe pedestrian spaces. 

Many Indian cities also piloted Public Bike Sharing (PBS) systems to improve the cycling mode and facilitate first and last mile connectivity options for public transport. Cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore adopted PBS based on the rental model, which was a completely private model. However, the operations within a few months of the launch faced challenges because they proved to be economically unviable. In Indore, MyByk offers the PBS through a PPP model, with funding from Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd. As of 2023, there were 1,550 cycles and the rates for daily rental were as subsidised as Rs 15 for 10 hours, Rs 25 for a day, Rs 129 for a week and Rs 449 for a month. The company was able to cater to the demand in the city for as long as there was capital support from AICTSL. Cities often provide subsidies through Viability Gap Funding to private parties to provide their services at a subsidised rate. But in turn, when the subsidies are revoked after a period of time, it becomes difficult for a private party to sustain its operations. 

The use of bicycles for first and last mile connectivity must also encourage higher public transport patronage in cities. Many metro stations have provisions for cycles to be docked up to ensure seamless connectivity for commuters; however, there is no provision to accommodate a cycle inside a bus, even if the commuter would prefer so. Given the standard urban bus specifications in cities, an operator cannot modify or innovate the structure of a public bus in a way that cycles could be accommodated.

A bicycle and NMT-friendly urban India will also be consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals, ensuring health and well-being, affordable and renewable energy, decreased inequities, and resilient cities and communities. While a national policy aimed at creating bicycle-friendly cities is required, incorporating local stakeholders (municipalities, urban local bodies, and traffic police departments) and ensuring coordination between various government departments will determine the outcome for bicycles in Indian cities. It is equally important to have pedestrian audits regularly done in cities and sensitise the authorities about creating pedestrian and cycle friendly streets. UMTAs need to be stronger in cities and take the upper hand in ensuring the implementation of NMT policies.


This article is featured in The New Indian Express

(Lizbeth Godwin is Senior Research Associate, Centre for Public Policy Research.)

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.

Lizbeth Jibi Godwin is Senior Associate- Research at the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR). She completed her post-graduation in MSc. Economics with specialization in Urban Development from Symbiosis International University. She also worked with Stories Worth Sharing Organization, Delhi as their Associate Partner and was the City head of Trivandrum. Her key areas of research interest include Urban Mobility, Urban Governance and Behavioural Economics.

Lizbeth Jibi Godwin
Lizbeth Jibi Godwin
Lizbeth Jibi Godwin is Senior Associate- Research at the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR). She completed her post-graduation in MSc. Economics with specialization in Urban Development from Symbiosis International University. She also worked with Stories Worth Sharing Organization, Delhi as their Associate Partner and was the City head of Trivandrum. Her key areas of research interest include Urban Mobility, Urban Governance and Behavioural Economics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *