The Capital Region Urban Transport (CRUT) started its bus services called ‘Mo Bus’ in Bhubaneswar last month. CRUT is an organization created by the Govt. of Odisha to provide Public Transport Services in master plan areas of Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, and Puri. CRUT has planned to provide three kinds of transit services including the Mo Bus service. The other two services are Mo Cycle and Mo e-Ride which are aimed to add last mile connectivity to Mo Bus service. Of these three transit services, Mo Cycle launched a couple of weeks ago.
Mo Cycle is essentially a public bicycle sharing (PBS) service operated by 3 private partners: Yulu, Yaana, and Hexi. CRUT is in the process of making 400+ Mo Cycle stations where these cycles can be picked up and dropped off. There are 2000 cycles are available. Hexi has provided 1000 cycles while Yulu and Yaana have added 500 cycles each.
How to Rent a Mo Cycle?
To rent a Mo Cycle, you need to locate a Mo Cycle, ideally at a Mo Cycle station. Using the app on your smartphone (Android and iOS only), you need to scan the QR code printed on the cycle to unlock the smart lock and start ride your ride. When a ride is complete, you need to drop off the cycle at any nearby Mo Cycle station, and manually lock the cycle and then click on the “End Ride” button on the app.
CRUT launched released the Mo Cycle app a few weeks ago. It was expected that this would be a single app to unlock and use any of the three available PBS services.
As per their website and some posters shared on their social media channels, the CRUT had apparently planned to enable users to use Mo Cycle app as a go-to option, only to abandon it later for unknown reasons. Considering the bugs, personally, I think the Mo Cycle app is just useless at the moment. The only features you will find on Mo Cycle app are locations of Mo Cycle stations on the map and see the number of available bikes on those cycle stations. Worse, even the bike availability information provided on this app is far from accurate. Indeed, one cannot blame the CRUT for the wrong information since their disclaimer on the app says they don’t guarantee the correctness and completeness of the information. How can you call yourself ‘smart’ when you can’t guarantee the correctness and completeness of the information? Effectively, this app just consumes the memory on your smartphone.
With their official app being unfit for use, you basically need to download “three different apps” to rent My Cycles. These apps are developed by the tree PBS services such as Hexi, Yaana and Yulu. The only problem is you can’t ensure that bicycle from your favorite operator is available at the Mo Cycle station. So, to make sure that you get a bike from the available cycles at the station, you need to get ready by downloading all three apps. Using the app of the operator of the available bike, you unlock the cycle and start your ride. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, not yet! I will explain this later. But first, let me explain different features available for different operators.
You will find white-colored Hexi bikes at the cycle stations. You need to use the Hexi app to unlock a bicycle and start your ride. However, you need to buy a subscription to use Hexi cycles. If you have one, you can get unlimited rides. First 30 minutes of each ride is free. If your ride is more than 30 minutes on a single trip, then you need to pay Rs. 5. This situation is most unlikely as most will use this PBS service for shorter distances and 30 minutes are enough to complete your ride. If you are new, you can try Hexi for free for 5 days using the Free Pass. After this pass expires, you need to buy another pass or subscription to use Hexi.
At Rs. 23, you can ride unlimited times for a single day. You can get One Month Pass and ride for 30 days for Rs. 99. Similarly, a 180 days Six Month Pass costs just Rs. 706. Well, I wonder why someone would pay Rs. 112 more six months in advance for this pass. So, the Rs. 99 plan for 30 days seems great, which works out to just Rs. 3.33 per day and offers unlimited rides each day. Therefore, if you want to use a bicycle for short commutes, then the 30-days Hexi subscription sounds more like it. As Hexi has 1000 bicycles, the chance of availability a Hexi bicycle is higher. As it gives a 5-days free pass without any payment hassle, everyone loves to try Hexi for 5 days. This explains the rare availability of Hexi cycle right now. But as days progress, hopefully, the availability of this bike will improve.
As for the app, Hexi is a great app. However, with its 30-day subscription, it’s suitable only for those who would rent cycles on a daily basis. If you want to take it for a single ride, there is no other option than to pay Rs. 23 for a one-day pass. Another downside of this service is that you can pick up a Hexi cycle only from a Mo Cycle station and can be dropped off at a Mo Cycle station. Which means it doesn’t provide the first mile and last mile connectivity. Therefore, it’s ideal only for short distance commutes between cycle stations.
Just like Hexi bikes, the orange colored Yaana bikes require the users to download their own Yaana app to unlock and ride. You can either take a membership or you need to deposit money to your wallet. You also need to deposit Rs. 100 as the security deposit if you don’t have a membership. While security deposits are refundable though, the money deposited in the wallet is not.
There are three types of memberships available with Yaana. They have a 30-days membership which can be availed by paying Rs. 100. This plan is similar to the 30 days subscription of Hexi. It costs Rs. 3.33 per day and you can get an unlimited number of rides. If your ride is less than 30 minutes, you don’t need to pay anything extra. As it’s unlikely that you will ride the bicycle for more than 30 minutes on a single trip, you don’t pay anything extra. However, in case you ride for more than 30 minutes on a single trip, then you need to pay Rs. 5 extra for each extra 30 minutes.
There is also a 90-days membership plan which costs Rs. 250. It’s similar to the 30-day membership but costs 2.78 per day.
They even have a 2-days subscription plan which costs Rs. 10. You can also avail 30 minutes free on every ride for 2 days and it costs just Rs. 5 per day. This is a good plan if you want to use the bicycle for just days. For example, if you want to use it to explore the beautiful temples in the old town on a weekend, you may choose this plan.
If you don’t want to subscribe to a membership, then you can take rides for Rs. 5 per 30 minutes of the ride. This is a good option if you want to use the cycle for a single ride on a day.
Similar to Hexi, you can pick up a Yaana cycle only from a Mo Cycle station and can be dropped off at a Mo Cycle station. Which means it does not provide the first mile and last mile connectivity. It is good only for short distance commutes between cycle stations. If you take this cycle for a weekend ride in a part of the city where cycle stations are unavailable and you want to visit a place where you need to leave your cycle, it’s going to be difficult as you can drop off the cycle only at cycle stations. The UI and UX on the app are not great either.
The blue-colored Yulu bikes need the Yulu app for unlocking and initiating a ride. You need to add Rs. 100 as the security deposit and add some money to your wallet to use Yulu. They give Rs. 45 bonus for free if you add Rs. 100 as the security deposit which is refundable. It costs Rs. 5 for every 30 minutes of the ride. You can also try Yulu by paying Rs. 1 via PayTM. Unlike Hexi or Yaana, Yulu doesn’t have any unlimited rides subscription plans. However, it offers a super-saver plan which gives you 30 rides of 30 minutes valid for 30 days at Rs. 100, which works out to Rs. 3.33 per ride. This plan is not as good as the subscription plans of Hexi or Yaana where you get unlimited 30-minute rides for 30 days at the same price. But it can be useful for some specific users.
Similar to other operators, Yulu bikes can also be picked up from a cycle station and dropped off at a cycle station. But there is a feature which adds a first mile and last mile connectivity options for a certain kind of users. Yulu’s ‘Pause’ feature helps you to lock the cycle manually and pause the ride on the app. So, if you are going to take the cycle for shopping or on a city ride, you can lock and pause the cycle and go inside the premises like shops, temples etc. There is no pause charge between 6 pm to 9 am. Between 9 am to 6 pm, the pause charge is Rs. 5 per 30 minutes.
Likewise, Yulu Keep lets you keep the bike at your home between 6 pm to 9 am by using Yulu Pause. This will be useful for people who use buses to travel to their work before 9 am in the morning and return home from work after 6 pm in the evening. They can take a Yulu bike from the bus stop and ride home. Pause the ride until the morning. In the morning they can resume their ride and ride to the bus stop. Drop off the cycle at the Mo Cycle stations which are mostly next to bus stops and take a bus to their work.
To help the bike users, authorities have developed cycle tracks around the central parts of the city. However, there are a lot of issues with the cycle tracks. It looks like the authorities did not develop the cycle tracks with proper planning and simply marked some spaces and painted them red just to complete the work before the Hockey World Cup. Most of the cycle tracks are obstructed by parked cars and auto rickshaws. As a result, many other vehicles encroach the cycle lane as well as normal lanes on the roads while moving. There are also many safety issues with a few cycle tracks. Even the cycle track (left-hand side) between Shastri Nagar square and Red Cross Square (which is the model cycle track of the smart city project) have two fatal obstructions. If you use the cycle lane without 100% focus both on the track, the chances of accidents cannot be ruled out.
I hope, in future, they improve the cycle tracks with proper planning and execution apart from saving the cycle tracks from illegal obstruction/encroachment by other parties.
Challenges for Mo Cycle
Even though there are early excitements among citizens about Mo Cycle, the ride is not going to be easy for the PBS scheme. In fact, just after a couple of days of the launch of this service, we can already see challenges such as:
Thefts and Vandalism
Within a week of launch, a dozen cycles went missing, as reported by some newspapers. Within a day after launch, parts of cycles like seats (all these cycles have adjustable seats), chains went missing. At the launch, I noticed many broken parts of many cycles, which shows how reckless we are while handling public property. Bhubaneswar Smart City and the police need to make sure that the cycles are not stolen or vandalized.
Climate and Terrain
In most parts of Bhubaneswar, it’s uphill or downhill. It’s easy to ride a cycle on the downhill and plain roads. But, understandably, it’s really tough riding a cycle on uphill roads for long distance. Except for November to February, the climate of Bhubaneswar is warm and humid. Even this past year, the climate was not pleasant in February and November. Since Mo Cycle was launched in late November this year, people have been enjoying riding cycles in the favorable winter climate of Bhubaneswar. After a couple of months, the excitement will wear off and the harsh climate will discourage many from using Mo Cycle as much. However, only a handful of serious cycle enthusiasts may use the cycles in the morning and evening.
The Complexity of Using Multiple Apps and Plans
As the CRUT failed to build the single, unified app, for renting bikes from the three operators, people are now left to juggle between three 3 different apps. They may also need to subscribe to multiple plans or at least deposit security money at more than two companies. People without access to a smartphone can’t use this PBS. So, CRUT needs to develop an all-in-one app and to have a single subscription or wallet which should work across all operators. I believe that CRUT also wanted people to unlock the cycles using a smart card. If they develop the infrastructure for this Mo Cycle smartcard and launch it, many will benefit from that.
Safer and Obstruction-Free Cycle Tracks
To be honest, the current cycle tracks are not very safe. And, many parts of the cycle tracks are obstructed by various parties. Many cyclists don’t use cycle tracks and instead use the road intended for motorized vehicles. So, the authorities should work on making cycle tracks safer and obstruction-free. Authorities and citizens should also spread awareness among the users about using cycle tracks.
Not Suitable for the First Mile and Last Mile Connectivity
Because you always need to walk from your home/office to the cycle station and from a cycle station to your home/office, you may not need a cycle once you reach the cycle station. You may use Mo Bus or an autorickshaw instead of using a cycle to commute between two cycle stations. Many even would prefer to use their own cars or motorbikes which are more convenient and effortless. If the authorities will try to create cycle stations in the interior streets instead of just on the main streets, it may help as a first mile and last mile connectivity option.
What’s the perfect solution for the first mile and last mile connectivity?
If the goal is to have a solution for the first mile and last mile connectivity while promoting zero carbon footprint and good health, then the CRUT should introduce bicycle-friendly buses where people can carry their own bicycle. They can start to ride their own bicycle from their own home and reach the bus stop. From there, they can carry their own cycle to another stop. And from there, they can reach their destination on their bicycle. Such buses are available in many developed countries where they promote public transportation and bicycle riding at the same time. But no one is considering this option in Bhubaneswar.
With all these challenges, I wonder if the Public Bicycle Sharing will remain a feasible option in Bhubaneswar in long run. But with strong support from the authorities and citizens, we can make it work. I hope the authorities are listening to the feedback.