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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pedalling one's way to health - would this be possible in Chennai traffic ?

The ubiquitous one on which Rajnikant rode in film ‘Annamalai’ selling milk to richness is in the thick of news. The political parties of India such as Telegu Desam, Samajwadi party, Manipur Peoples Party, the J&K National Panthers party, Kerala Congress Party and the now defunct Tamil Maanila Congress all had attachment to it - yes the simple mechanism of moving on wheels with human power ‘the cycle’.

There is news that arterial roads of Annanagar, especially the ones near educational institutions are going to have cycle tracks shortly. The Mayor M Subramanian of Corporation is launching a pilot project to create exclusive lanes along the 8 km roads.

There are many cities in western countries which have similar facility encouraging usage of cycles – there could be potential dampeners in the form of design, the drainage, the platform, the private property construction, utilities, reach to public transport, vendors who have occupied the pathways, unauthorized parking of vehicles and of course the maintenance of the proposed facility in a long term. Studies have been made on this and this is to be introduced in phases. Their study reportedly reveals that around 7000 school children cycle their way to school. The news brought some nostalgic memories…………………..

A few decades ago - Atlas, Hercules, BSA and Hero were not mere names. They were proud assets – people would treasure their cycles, parade them with pride, and ride them to offices and other places. The weekends many could have seen the ritualistic oiling and cleaning of the cycles with small pieces of clothes. Children would relish a small ride in cycle. It was macho to learn cycling when in middle school level and those who came to school cycling their way were the envy of other students. How much has changed in a generation or two ?

This utopian invention also known as bi-cycle is a pedal driven, human powered, single track vehicle – having two wheels in a frame, a handle bar and a pedal. Many of my age could recall the lamps that were fitted to the cycles – earlier they were oil wicks then ones powered by dynamo affixed to the rear wheel generating energy as the back wheel rolled on. Do you know that riding a cycle without light in night was an offence and Police would fine for that offence.

This is one which has not changed much since its invention. The bicycles had huge impact on society. The parts and the final product was a big industry. It is recorded that cycles were imported from 1905 and was priced close to Rs.50/- (with which one can buy many grams of gold those days). In India, Ludhiana has had a pride of place in the cycle industry – TI Cycles was a major brand in South India.

All cinema halls, railway stations, factories had a cycle stand which can house hundreds of cycles. The attribute of the village was people on cycle. Postmen entirely depended on it. The cycle repairer who can ride the vehicle in style was a childhood hero. There were shops who gave cycles on hire – remember it was 15 paise per hour in late 70s.

All that has vanished – there are not many cycles – nay no space for such utopian creatures on this fast world where there is little space for jostling motor vehicles. Many would make demands for using this friendly one, which is very good for health and eco system but not many would prefer to ride this to office or to a function, thinking of the difficulty as also the status.

In India, quite often Political parties would organize massive cycle rallies to promote their cause and to capture the eyes of voters during elections.

At a time when Chennai Corporation is ushering this laudable move, the London Mayor has launched a cycle hire scheme. This first public cycle sharing scheme in London will allow users to hire a bike for short journeys around the capital. It is hoped that the 6000 cycles spread over 315 docking stations will increase the number of bike journeys taken on the capital's roads. Tourists, residents and commuters can all use the scheme - although for the first month they will have to register in advance. At the time of launch, around 6000 cycle will be ready for hire, much lower than what was launched in Paris where it reportedly started with 10000 and enhanced to 40000 by present estimates. Even at this rate, it would ensure a bicycle hire stand ‘docking station’ in every 300 by 300 metre square of area covered, ensuring that one need not walk kilo meters to find one.

Getting the land, vehicles and infrastructure must have been a very tough assignment. Still they have been in a position to implement this. Seemingly the London population has supported this and has started making use of this in a big way. To make this a hit, measures including subsidized cycle training, safety campaign, incentives to purchase safety equipments like helmets and improvement to infrastructure of the roads are being done. Unlike India, people use helmets and other protective gear whilst driving cycles also.

The investment is pretty huge - estimated at £50 million for phase one which will be met by London tax payers. Running costs will be met from the tariff for using the bikes, there is to be an annual subscription charge and it will be possible to have day and weekly membership, at a lower charge. It is reported that in Paris, the first half hour is free. The London scheme reportedly is open to anyone aged 18 and above and initially only registered members can use the bike. The bikes will be available on pay-as-you-cycle basis. The good thing about the scheme is you can hire one at a docking station and leave it elsewhere closer to your destination at another docking station, which requires great networking. If the bike is stolen whilst in once possession, the hiree will have to pay. The maintenance like puncture will be attended to at any docking station and the vehicle will not released until the repair is complete.

The one proposed in Annanagar, Chennai is only of providing infrastructure to the cycle user – in London, Paris and other European countries, it is making the cycle available at a nominal cost and urging the citizens to use the same – saving in energy, helping the green environment and promoting health.

In many tamil cinemas, the comedian would often own a hire cycle shop and getting a cycle in a new place would often be the theme of comedy. In one film, Goundamani – the claimant to fame of all repairs would refuse cycle to a common man – he could not find out any valid reason – would then ask for the name and would say that he would not hire cycles for such names…….
Sure cycle would bring back nostalgia – if you wonder the mention of some political parties at the start of this post – all these parties had cycle as their election symbol.

Regards – Sampathkumar S


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