Will Indians Ditch Cabs for the Health-friendly Bicycle?

Entrepreneurs are looking at enhancing public bicycle sharing systems in India; but is the country ready?
Will Indians Ditch Cabs for the Health-friendly Bicycle?
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Former Senior Correspondent, Entrepreneur India
5 min read

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Delhi’s air pollution levels continue to ring the alarm across the country, with political parties resorting to the blame game and while international players on the cricket field wear masks, the startup community is rising to the need of the hour.

Cancelling the cab rides, entrepreneurs are looking at enhancing public bicycle sharing systems in India. The latest to join the bandwagon is cab-hailing service Ola that now offers its consumers Ola pedal, an option to ride to different places.

Not just for public usage purposes, companies are also looking at bicycles as a mode of delivering products. Hyperlocal on-demand aggregator Jugnoo has also recently added bicycles to its delivery vertical.

Entrepreneur India spoke to players in the market, who are bullish about a bicycle-driven community and also shared what needs to be done to make India a better bicycle friendly country.

Solving Problems by Riding

One of the biggest problems that most users face is last-mile connectivity. You could take public transport system but to actually reach your destination, there are many switches of transport involved. So, one ends up spending a lot more time and money on reaching their desired destination. Agreeing with same, Akash Gupta, Co-founder of Mobycy, which claims to be India’s first dockless bicycle sharing startup, said, “I recently read in a report that people spend 60 per cent of their time and 65 per cent more money to reach their destination in India. Cycles should become a norm because they are easy to find, quick to ride, don’t let you be dependent on someone else and are also cost effective.”

Connectivity is a problem that Vishala Reddy, Director and Founder of Identcity, also noticed but refused to keep quiet about. Strongly campaigning about the case with the “Cycle to Work” concept, Reddy has been the brain behind many such projects in Hyderabad (Raahagiri and Car Free Thursday), which promote bicycle riding. Talking about how she has seen a change, she said, “When we started the campaigns in 2009, there were hardly any imported bicycles stores in Hyderabad. Today, there are 30+ stores. This shows the growing interest amongst consumers.”

The dangerously high levels of pollution are another reason why entrepreneurs are turning to bicycles. “If we don’t start using e-vehicles or cycles now, it will be too late,” said Gupta.

During the launch of bicycles in their delivery vertical, Samar Singla, CEO & Founder of Jugnoo had noted that it is the increasing number of vehicles on road which contribute towards pollution, global warming and traffic jams.

But it isn’t just for daily commute. For delivery purposes too, bicycles solve the last mile connectivity problem while promising zero pollution. For companies, it reduces their cash burn too. With 300+ daily deliveries by these bicycles, Jugnoo has reduced the cost per delivery by 30%.

“Bicycles are proving effective in reducing cost per delivery and we are making continuous improvement to make our system efficient yet eco-friendly. In future, we plan to introduce electric bikes to the current fleet,” said Singla.

A Bumpy Ride in India?

Bicycles are the most effective mode of communication while also being cost effective, but the problem lies in its acceptance among the crowd. While it’s currently popular for recreational purposes as well as fitness, commuting to work on a bicycle is still not a popular concept.

Most experts agree that the lack of infrastructure is a big problem. The lack of cycle tracks in the country is a challenge while convincing people to switch to bicycles. Gupta believes that while awareness is an easier task, healthier infrastructure needs our attention now. “We are working with governments to create a cycle-friendly environment,” he said and added that most governments are already up for it with tenders rolled by 30 different governments to build cycling tracks.

Mobycy is also promoting public sharing with technology. One can just log in to their app and check for bicycles parked nearby. Their bright green cycles have an IoT device on them which has a QR code, which one can scan to unlock the cycle.

Meanwhile, Deenanath Hari, Founder and CEO of Cykul, is taking matters on his own hands. Their business model is divided into two segments — one where they are building cycling infrastructure that will boost the public bicycle sharing system and the second one where they are creating experiences for people to enjoy cycling. “India is already world no. 2 for bicycle riders. Nineteen per cent of the Indian population already cycles. As more and more people realise the need for cycling, the numbers will grow. It’s an exponential curve.”

At Cykul, they have even partnered with Dr Reddy’s to promote cycles as a health benefit. They have put out cycles on company premises and campuses to create awareness and availability.

Traffic is another problem which needs to be tackled by riders. Reddy believes that it is a behavioural change which will come in with time. She said that people need to start respecting cyclists on the roads and the subsequent shift in thinking which will bring about an environment friendly change. “Offices too need to have the required infrastructure for people to start commuting to work on cycles. They should even give out basic incentives for people who do so,” said Reddy.

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