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HT Round Table: Is Pune Bicycle Plan on the right track?

The ₹350 crore Pune Bicycle Plan is among the most ambitious projects of its kind in the country, even as a number of cities have taken to promote cycling by urban residents. Pune municipal commissioner Kunal Kumar, Rajya Sabha MP and NCP leader Vandana Chavan, leader of opposition in the PMC Chetan Tupe and senior Congressman Arvind Shinde were among those who participated in the Hindustan Times Round Table discussion to present their views on this plan. Following are the excerpts from the discussion moderated by resident editor Abhay Vaidya.

pune Updated: Jan 29, 2018 21:59 IST
Team Hindustan Times
Team Hindustan Times
Hindustan Times, Pune
HT Round Table,Pune Bicycle Plan,Pune municipal commissioner Kunal Kumar
Municipal commissioner Kunal Kumar was also present at the event organised at Ramee Grand, Apte road .(Rahul Raut/HT)

Abhay Vaidya: An historic attempt is being made by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to revive cycling in the city. We are at a stage where even the community seems to be enthusiastic about the cycle plan. A number of people have taken to cycling in some localities and for the first time, there seems to be a comprehensive bicycle plan. Our observation is that the effort by the Pune Municipal Corporation this time is better planned and organised than in the past. While India’s biggest failure lies in poor execution, we feel that if this project succeeds, the entire nation is going to look at it very closely. If it fails, it would be yet another failure in a long list of failures. To begin with, I would like to request Pune Municipal Commissioner Kunal Kumar to give us an overview of this project.

Kunal Kumar: I thank Hindustan Times for arranging this discussion. Around December 2015, we had selected a consortium of three companies- Prasanna Desai Architects, CEE (Centre for Environment Education) and ITrans to prepare a bicycle plan for the city of Pune. We also constituted a bicycle advisory committee with a number of stakeholders. The net cost of the project is ₹350 crore which will be shared by the government of India (GOI) and the Pune Municipal Corporation. While the PMC will invest 20 per cent of the total cost, 80 per cent cost of the project will be given by the government of India. In the current scenario, the 1st instalment of money from the GOI has already come to us. Now we are in the process of utilisation and strategising the process. After multiple surveys, our plan is to create a total of 880 kms of cycle track, which includes tracks on both sides of the road. It will include retrofitting of the existing tracks that were created under the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) project. Unfortunately, a number of mistakes were done in that project because the focus was on the BRT. We accept those mistakes but the fact of the matter is that we can retrofit those tracks and use them. The other issue is that we did not make a policy to boost cycling and therefore there was encroachment. Hence, this time, we have to focus on incentivising the city to move towards cycling. We plan to do this by encouraging those who want to cycle and by engaging corporates such as IT companies and others to give incentives to employees to cycle to work. At least some people will do that. Most people will cycle 2-4 km.

We are creating nearly 900 cycle parking zones across the city and gradually these will come under CCTV.

In this project we have integrated a concept called as the Public Bicycle Sharing System. This is a dock-less system. We don’t want to create a monopoly. For example, Bhopal has spent ₹6 crore and introduced 500 cycles. Instead, PMC has decided to become a facilitator and invite companies to introduce cycle sharing through the market force. We will extend support to the operators but won’t own the bicycles. This will also lead to people moving away from motorised two-wheelers and cars to cycles.

We have the major political parties represented on this table. I would like to ask the participants whether, in principle, they support the cycle plan?

Arvind Shinde: This subject is not new for us. Our issue is for whom are we creating the cycle plan? Is it only to satisfy a few people who are cyclists? Cycle tracks already exist in the city; so why not use them and run a pilot plan and then put it across to the citizens? I feel that this project is not time tested and Pune is not ready for the cycle plan. We need to wait for another 10 years. This plan should not be executed in a hurry. It is okay to promote bicycles among school and college students, but not working professionals who want speedy transport.

Vandana Chavan: Let me start by saying that we completely support this project. In fact, earlier, the PMC had decided to make cycle tracks only under the Smart City project. However, it was, I, who suggested that cycle tracks should be made for the entire city. That suggestion was accepted as we can see today. Thus, while we completely support the cycle plan, we do have some reservations on which we need to be convinced. In principle, even if we support it, there’s no point supporting it if it is not going to be implemented properly. Please don’t take our statement of support in isolation.

SCN Jatar: I think we have well passed the stage of asking this question of whether you support the plan or not. That is not the issue. The issue here is what is the priority? Is this part of a larger perspective? Don’t put your focus only on bicycles. I, for one, believe that my first priority is pedestrians, followed by public transport, followed by bicycles. We don’t have enough money so why are we spending ₹350 crore on bicycles? For which section of the society are we making this plan?

Ranjit Gadgil: We have had enough rhetoric about cycling being a pollution-free, eco-friendly and healthy mode of transportation. I think this is the first time we have seen a really concrete step which is gong to turn that rhetoric into reality. So we feel extremely optimistic that not only should cycling be revived in the city; but we can also expect enormous success with a huge number of people taking to cycling. If there is any city which is ready for cycling, I think it is Pune which has had a culture of cycling. We are seeing a lot of support for the cycling plan in Pune.

Sanskriti Menon: There is a significant number of cyclists in the city today- 3 per cent according to mode share statistics. So it’s not only a question of attracting more people but also of making the roads safe for cyclists. The comprehensive mobility plan is targeting mode share. There are a number of cyclists who need safe conditions. Studies show that there is interest in cycling, both recreation and commute cycling. This city and the cyclists deserve this plan. There are also a number of people walking long distances in the absence of safe mode of transport; they can shift to cycling. Our study shows that the time is right to have cycling infrastructure in place.

Vaidya: What aspects of the Cycle Plan do you oppose and what modifications would you like to see?

Shinde: The cycle plan is being promoted as a healthy, pollution-free alternative to deal with the problem of parking vehicles. However, the air pollution being such, commuting itself is not healthy. Right now cycling is mostly done for health and recreation. We are spending ₹350 crores but not looking at revenue generation. We have 15 lakh two-wheelers and the PMC plans to provide 1 lakh cycles. What about the remaining 14 lakh two-wheelers which will continue to cause congestion on the roads? The Detailed Project Report (DPR) on the Pune Bicycle Plan has not been done. We are going back to the same consultants who failed the first time. Also, the planning is flawed. Everything is only on paper but nothing in reality, just as it happened with BRT (Bus Rapid Transport System). We don’t want to see this huge sum of money going down the drain.

Tupe: It was under the visionary leadership of Sharad Pawar that the cycle track was first planned in Pune. This was planned within JNNURM and with BRT, but for a very short distance. The Congress and NCP had planned dedicated cycle tracks for 70 kms, much before the Smart City concept. The, then, commissioner Pravinsingh Pardeshi had taken this initiative very seriously and every Tuesday he would cycle till the PMC. Why can’t the PMC look at revenue generation through advertising on the bicycles as is being done in other cities? The PMC says the city will get 1 lakh cycles, but the MOU with four companies is for 4.75 lakh cycles. There is no revenue sharing model. No attention has been paid to the safety of the cyclists or the health of these cyclists who will be inhaling bad air. There is no plan to provide insurance cover to cyclists. The private companies will take all the revenue and the MOU has no provision to help the families of cycle fatalities. The MOU also states that they are free to charge as they please for hiring cycles. We are against the loopholes in the MOU. We didn’t see mention of e-bicycles. Why did the PMC not approach Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) for a sound plan as was done by Kolkatta? We find the Pune Cycle plan is incomplete and will result in failure.

Jatar: My basic opposition is that this project is aimless. The objectives are neither quantified nor clear. I am of the firm opinion that we have learnt nothing from our failure in BRT. We are repeating the same mistakes and therefore, I pray to god that this cycling project succeeds. Another major thing is that the DPR does not cover all the aspects. There is a major problem of encroachment and while we are spending as much as ₹350 crore, we have no plans to stop the encroachment. I also have reservations about how the roads have been selected for the cycle tracks.

Chavan: Our major concern is that the mistakes we made in the past under the BRT project should not be repeated. Also, what is missing is dialogue and communication. The BRT project was being handled by some of the top-most companies of the nation and still had many flaws. Projects related to cycling have been very successful in many foreign countries where you have separate tracks for cycling and differently-coloured tracks to help cyclists identify them. We are of the strong opinion that a third party assessment must be done. However, with complete lack of communication on the part of the PMC, we are not convinced that this project is going in the correct direction. One has to understand that we as public representatives are accountable to the people who have voted us to authority.

Kumar: I agree that we need to focus heavily on the quality of the project. However, everyone is on a learning curve and this is indeed a genuine effort. Step by step we are moving ahead. We are glad to have everyone’s support on the project and I totally accept your sincere concerns. I admit that we should increase the level of communication and we will most certainly increase that. If we are able to succeed in creating sustainable cycling, then all these things stand subsidiary to that. The key point of this project is to increase the number of people cycling and boost the cycling infrastructure. As far as safety issues are concerned, we should look for insurance for cyclists. The cycling infrastructure and cycle zones are being identified with meticulous effort after paying due attention to the quality of the roads.

Vaidya: The key words that have emerged from this discussion are good implementation and a dialogue with everyone. I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to meet again after six months or eight months to see the progress on the Pune Bicycle Plan.

First Published: Jan 29, 2018 21:59 IST