Monday, March 26, 2012

India’s Bike-sharing Tipping Point

Guest post by Bradley Schroeder

Bike-sharing in India is on the verge of exploding in terms of the number of cities looking towards implementation. Both for-profit and governmental bodies are reviewing models that could work. I was privileged to be invited to India in November 2011 by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy to work on bike-sharing –- both at the 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 for India right now. Similar concerns have been echoed globally by sceptics, 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 bike-sharing have been made, most lack the basic concept and confuse it with bicycle rental. Also lacking is the technology that makes 3rd generation (high tech) systems a success and the coverage area to account for anything 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 bike-sharing which was well attended with quite vocally opinionated stances on whether bike-sharing is needed and how it would succeed in India.

But the wheels are turning. 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 components of successful bike-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 bike-sharing’s potential in a large Indian city.

South of Pune, Kerberon Automations has set up shop in Bangalore with a few stations in what looks like the beginnings of a well-designed 3rd generation system using an advertising-based business model.

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

It is up to local governments to educate themselves on best practices of bike-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 bike-sharing a success. Putting the package together in India seems very plausible.


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image credit: Chris Kost, ITDP India

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