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Can Delhi's Bike Sharing System Help Mainstream Cycling in India?

On Sunday, India’s latest bicycle sharing system was launched in New Delhi following on from the successes of Mysore, Bhopal, and other Indian cities, which have helped garner interest in cycling as an alternative mode of commute. The bike share system was launched by Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President of India, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, and Meenakshi Lekhi, Member of Parliament, New Delhi.

Under the Smart Cities initiatives, NDMC launched this bicycle sharing system with SmartBike, a Hyderabad-based company which has teamed up with NextBike, a German cycle rental company with operations in over 150 countries. The first phase of this launch will see 300 cycles with 20 docking stations, which will be scaled to 1000 cycles within the first year of operations. The plan is to eventually scale up to 5000 cycles in the core city area.

As it was also World Bicycle Day, Meenakshi Lekhi led a cycle ride with 10,000 cyclists around the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) area.

Contrary to public perception, cycling already has a substantive mode share of transport in India. As per the 2011 census, 45 percent, or nearly 110 million households own a bicycle, and data shows that 13 percent of Indians use bicycles as their primary mode of transport to work. Meanwhile, a mere 3 percent drive to work. Additionally, in 2012-2013, 12 million bicycles were sold in India, and sales have been growing at the rate of 6 percent over the last 5 years. Despite this, cycling has been neglected as a transport mode with little being done to retain its mode share.

In the urban mobility space, cycling is now seen as the next big revolution owing to its multiple health, social, economic, and environmental benefits. However, most of this push towards cycling has been from the private sector. Up until 2015, there were a total of 1.2 million public shared bicycles in the world. This number went to over 16 million in China alone by 2017, mostly owing to the rise in popularity of dockless bicycles.

The key question, however, is what would it take for cycling to be mainstreamed in Indian cities? The simple answer is this: a critical mass of cycles and safe infrastructure.

Beijing today has a population of 23 million people, and 8 million publicly shared bicycles, which see 16 million trips on a daily basis. This was unthinkable a decade ago, but it shows that change is possible. Along with installing bike share systems around the city, the government also ensured safe cycling tracks to encourage people to use the cycles.

In India, too, public bicycle systems have gained popularity with successful initiatives in Mysore, Bhopal, and other cities. However, a lot more still needs to be done, especially with regard to safety. City governments are now realising that they cannot continue to neglect walking and cycling. Issues of pedestrian and cyclist safety have been brought to the forefront by Streets For All initiatives like Raahgiri Day, which started in Gurugram and has now expanded to over 50 cities.

New Delhi and other cities have made a start by initiating bicycle sharing systems. Now, the success will lie in scaling up these systems and ensuring safe infrastructure for its users.

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