Bike Sharing: The ‘Smart’ Mode of Public Transport
It is often said that one discovery, innovation or invention often leads to another. Same is the case with the idea of smart cities and electric vehicles. The idea of smart cities was conceived to counter and tackle the problems faced by today’s urban areas, while electric vehicles came to the fore because of the world’s commitment to cut down vehicular emissions. Both these ideas culminated into a new form of public transport system - the bike sharing model.
The rapid urbanization due to Industrial Revolution in the 16-17th century brought many positive as well as negative changes to the world. Population explosion, overcrowding, water and sanitation problems, and pollution of cities were some of the negative effects of the urbanization spree caused due to the Industrial Revolution. The industrial revolution across the globe went on at such a pace and with so much vigor that a sorry state of cities went unnoticed for decades, or even centuries, in some cases. In the recent years, on the backdrop of declaration of Sustainable Development Goals, many policy makers, members of civil societies, environmentalists and activists started campaigns to transform the overall conditions of the cities and towns. This gave rise to the idea of ‘Smart Cities’.
Though a single concrete definition of a smart city isn’t formulated, a city is generally considered to be a smart city, if it is able to drive sustainable economic development and improve the overall standard of living of its constituent citizens, by using modern technology and smart solutions. Accordingly, to turn the idea of ‘Smart Cities’ into reality, the menace of air pollution and the overcrowding of citizens and their transport vehicles needed to be tackled first. The concept of bike sharing came in as a solution for this problem.
Evolution of Bike Sharing
Bike sharing is an emerging mode of public transport wherein short distance transport services are provided in areas that are generally underserved by municipal public transport system. In the initial years for bike sharing, the users of this model shared the benefits and expenses pertaining to the bike and other related accessories. This model filled in the void created due to irregular or even non-existent public transport services. Over the years, municipal authorities themselves adopted this idea, wherein a fleet of bikes was placed at multiple convenient locations across the city, so that the general populace can rent and share bikes among themselves, as an alternative to the public transport system. Today, the global bike sharing market is evolving and growing with a great pace.
Types of Bike Sharing Systems
In the last decade, the model of bike sharing has become so popular that multiple bike sharing systems have been formulated. The basic thought behind formulation of these systems is to suit the city’s infrastructure, and to find a common ground between the citizens, the bike sharing system operator and the municipal authorities. Some of the types of bike sharing systems are as follows:
- Dock-based System: In this system, a user of the bike sharing model has to pick up the bike from a predetermined and definite physical location and drop it at another such definite location. These locations are generally decided by the bike sharing operator companies or the municipal authorities.
- Free-floating System: In this system, the user has to pick up the bike from the bike station but can drop it off at any location in the operator’s jurisdiction. The operator’s jurisdiction can be a suburb of the city or the whole city itself. Thus, this system doesn’t mandate the dropping off of the bike on a definite physical location.
- Hybrid System: In this system, though definite physical locations aren’t set, virtual stations are ‘installed’ in the city by the operator. So, the user has to leave his/her bike at this virtual location using the GPS.
Advantages of Bike Sharing
Bike sharing system is a unique mix of innovation and sustainability. It has transformed the urban transport scenario because of the advantages it presents. Some of these advantages are as follows:
- Bike sharing system fulfils the basic need of an efficient inter-city public transport system.
- Since the bikes are shared, the number of vehicles that come out on the road for transportation purposes goes down, which decreases the traffic congestion.
- Most importantly, the decrease in the number of vehicles decreases the vehicular emissions resulting in reduction of air pollution.
- Places where public transport system was efficient but due to huge population, was facing burden on its shoulders, the bike sharing system has relieved this burden.
- The shift from fuel to electric vehicles has been a welcoming one, and bike sharing system being primarily run by electric bikes furthers this cause.
The Bottom Line
The advent of electric bikes and bike sharing system has improved the public transport systems in different metropolitan cities across the globe. However, many challenges remain. The most important challenge is regarding the outreach of this model. Today, bike sharing model is mainly implemented only in metropolitan cities; this needs to be changed. The infrastructure needed for this system should be revamped in such a way, that it can be replicated in Tier-II and Tier-III towns also. Moreover, municipal authorities should provide incentives for start-ups who are looking to enter in the bike sharing market, so as to increase the number of operators in the particular city. Bike sharing model has definitely shown the way to achieve the sustainable development goals; and improvements in its infrastructure, which is expected to boost its capability even further.
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