India’s Tipping Point

Cycle sharing in India is on the verge of exploding in terms of the number of cities looking to implement it. Both for-profit and governmental bodies are looking at models that will work in that country. I was privileged to be invited there in November of 2011 by ITDP to work on cycle sharing ­- working at a national level, as part of a team creating a policy document for national funding, as well as at the municipal level with various cities. What I experienced was reminiscent of the China I experienced when working there in 2008.

The concerns for safety and the image of cycling being only for the poor are probably the largest concerns in India right now. Similar concerns have been echoed globally by skeptics, but it’s important for India to go down the same path as other societies have, and to build a model that will work in the Indian context.

While various attempts at cycle sharing have been made, most lack the basic concept of bicycle sharing (confusing it with bicycle rental), the technology that makes 3rd generations systems a success, or the coverage area to account for more than a small pilot project. But the lack of existing systems did not deter the Urban Mobility India Conference in Delhi from holding a session on bicycle sharing which was well attended with quite vocally-opinionated stances on whether cycle sharing is needed and how it would succeed in India.

But the wheels are turning (pun intended). Cycle Chalao has won a tender in the city of Pune to put a pretty decent-sized system in place. While the contract lacks two key component of successful cycle sharing systems globally, stipulation of full automation and payment according to service levels, it does allow leeway for a robust system to be installed and showcase cycle sharing’s potential in a large Indian city.

South of Pune, Kerberon has set up shop in Bangalore with a few stations in what looks like the beginnings of a well designed 3rd generation cycle sharing system using an advertising-based operational model.Chris Kost - ITDP India

India is at the tipping point. If cycle sharing is planned and implemented well in the first few cities who truly adopt it, there is little reason it could not take off. Indian cycling is historically a poor man’s way to travel but a new emerging higher-class recreational cycling effort that is seen in many cities can give cycling the image facelift it needs to become an acceptable way to travel.

It is up to local governments to educate themselves on best practices of bicycle sharing globally and to apply them to the Indian context.  Through our discussions with local manufacturers, we found there was interest and ability to design and supply the ideal bicycles, stations, terminals, docks and technology needed to make cycle sharing a success. Putting the package together seems very plausible.

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