The other perception standing in the way of an Indian cycling revolution

Cycling is intimidating to many urban Indians whom cycle-sharing companies will need to attract: middle-class, often young commuters, who perhaps cycled as kids but now see it as something they might do on an occasional Sunday. They’re afraid they’ll be knocked from their cycle or worse as drivers jerk about on city streets, unused to looking for anyone riding a non-motorised vehicle.

Cycling Tracks

Infrastructure—particularly cycling tracks that are set firmly apart from streets—would make cycling safer, but, arguably more important from the perspective of a cycle-sharing company, it would boost the perception that cycling is safe. That perception, research shows, is likely to boost ridership of all kinds, and especially among women, according to Anne Lusk.

The other perception standing in the way of an Indian cycling revolution is the association with poverty. Nikita Lalwani, the founder of cycling evangelist organization Cycling Cities, who’s been cycling to work for nearly five years, doesn’t believe that stigma will disappear without what she calls “human engineering.” The goal is to change this perception while not excluding low-income riders from the cycle tracks and the cycle-sharing economy that many hope to see.

“It’s a behavior change, so it’s definitely going to take time,” she said.

The list of recommendations to strip cycling of its stigma is long: incentives for employees to cycle to work; more “bike to work” days; shower facilities in offices; government-led campaigns that show cycling can lead to better health, less pollution, and less congestion; a school-led drive to teach kids proper cycling etiquette and safety; advertisements from cycle-sharing companies that tell commuters they now have a new option to get to work.

Some policy fixes would also be helpful. Cycling would be safer and more efficient if, for example, bicycles were given preference over cars at intersections. Of course, that kind of fix assumes there are a sizable number of cyclists.

Pune possibilities

No city in India comes up as much as Pune in conversations about cycle-sharing.

Traditionally known as the country’s “cycling city,” Mobike, Yulu, and PEDL are already there, and plenty more companies have plans to join them by the end of the year, according to Srinivas Bonala, the chief engineer for projects at the Pune Municipal Corporation. The weather is great for cycling almost year-round, and the average trip taken in the city is 7.9 kilometers—an easily cyclable distance.

Bonala says the PMC has allotted 824 kilometers of cycle track that they plan to finish in the next three-five years. They’re expecting as many as 80,000 cycles to be rolling around their streets by the close of December – nothing close to the density of Beijing’s roughly 2 million cycles, but similar to when Dallas in the US became home to around 20,000 rental cycles soon after companies began to operate there.

Dedicated bicycling team

Bonala says the PMC has a dedicated bicycling team that meets with cycle-sharing companies every Friday, also similar to Dallas. They’ve marked off-cycle parking zones and are in the process of talking to residents and the police to make sure those zones aren’t overrun with cars and motorbikes.

A lot of the cycles operate only in specific parts of the city for now, but they’re expanding quickly and in conjunction with a growing metro system.

This last point is big. It applies across the country. Everyone in cycling talks about solving the “first and last-mile problem,” which means providing an easy way for commuters to get from their front doors to a bus or train station, and from those stations to wherever they work.

It’s a problem cities have across the globe, and one cycle-sharing has a chance to solve. As city governments in India look to expand and integrate their various forms of public transit, it might make sense to plan new routes in areas where cycle-sharing is established.