Bicycle sharing moving into top gear in urban India

Yulu bikes Co-founders of Yulu Bikes Amit Gupta, Hemant Gupta, Naveen Dachuri and R.K. Mishra with bikes in Bengaluru | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

For 56-year -old Poornima V. Kumar, a counsellor working in a Mysuru school, 'Trin Trin'—the Public Bike Share (PBS) system of Mysuru—is a dream come true. It is here that she learnt to cycle and has now become an expert cyclist.

She rents bicycles for almost two hours daily. “Initially I was hesitant to learn to ride a bicycle and my family was afraid that I may not be able to ride properly. However, I took up the courage and learnt to cycle using Trin Tin cycles. Now I have become so confident that I plan to come downhill from the steep Chamundi Hills road. At the same time, I do not have to worry about the maintenance and just concentrate on riding. Now I am cycling mainly for fitness and leisure activities,” said Poornima.

Like Poornima, 33-year-old Prashanthi R., a partner in a software firm in Mysuru, regularly uses Trin Trin and hires the bicycles near the University gate in the city. “Ever since the service was launched in the city last year, my friends and I have been very regular users of the service and we use it almost daily for an hour and then leave the cycle at the docking centre of the bicycle operator. I do not have a cycle of my own but found the bicycles really good as we do not have to worry about the maintenance and just need to hire and ride,” said Prashanti.

Mysuru's Trin Trin is a government of Karnataka project, partially funded by the World Bank under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) grant. This was one of the first bicycle sharing initiatives in the country. Last year Madhya Pradesh's capital Bhopal also saw the country's first fully-automated bicycle sharing system. As part of this completely automated system, users can pick up a cycle from any of the stations and deposit it at another station after use, without worrying about depositing it at the original location.

Mahesh Siddegowda, founder of Green Wheel Ride which operates Trin Trin in Mysuru, explains that ever since the service was launched in Mysuru in June 2017 the service has seen very good traction and currently 500 bicycles are being used around the city. “We have 8,000 registered users who have paid for this service in Mysuru. Currently we have three rides per day per cycle. We achieved this in the first three months itself since the launch. The project is owned by the Mysuru city corporation and we have currently 49 docking stations around the city where the users can leave their bicycles,” he said.

An ardent supporter of 'green transportation', Mahesh had a penchant for bicycles ever since he completed his mechanical engineering. He even launched a bicycle sharing service in Mysuru using electric bicycles wherein a rider can also pedal as well use the electric components if he or she tires. Later on when the Mysuru corporation invited bids for the bike sharing project, his company won the bid. The company manufactures all the cycles in Mysuru itself though certain components such as the seat, handle, tyres are imported from China. Interestingly the tyres are puncture-resistant and the cycle is rugged but easy to ride.

Currently the bikes have RFID tags but gradually in the next phase all the bicycles will have an built GPS system. The cloud-based software used to maintain and run the operations has been built by a Mysuru-based company. The pricing is very attractive and the users have to pay monthly charges of Rs 50 along with a refundable deposit of Rs 250 to be paid at the time of registration. The first hour of ride is free; beyond that the user is charged Rs 5 per hour.

“The bike sharing model has been very successful in China because there was a bicycle culture already prevailing in that country. In India people need to respect cyclists and need to consider them also to be part of the traffic. The government also needs to set up spaces for cyclists. I also feel it is necessary to have docking stations to have better control of the bikes so as when the user returns the bike its condition can be checked,” added Mahesh.

The smart bike sharing project which is part of the smart city project in Bhopal is being operated by Chartered Bikes, an Ahmedabad-based company. The company has seen some very good traction for this initiative in the city. Currently 500 bicycles are being used in the city and the company is planning to scale up the number shortly. “We are currently having 60 plus docking stations in the city and plan to scale up the number of docking stations to around 100 in the next few months. We have had 28,000 registered users for our system ever since the system was launched in the city. There is no manual locking and all our bikes are GPS-enabled and we can also track them on a real time basis if required. We also come to know if there is some technical problem with the functioning of the bike through the GPS system,” said Sumit Sen, operations supervisor at Bhopal for Chartered Bikes.

Sumit explained that these bikes are mainly being used by office-goers in the city who want to use this healthy way of commutation rather than using their own vehicle or public transport. “The registration process is very user friendly and there are many multiple options for people even if they are not smart phone users. The Android users can download their app and register accordingly. There are many dedicated bicycle lanes in Bhopal city. All our bikes have been imported from Germany and we do the local maintenance here in Bhopal. Each bike has also a unique number which makes tracking an maintenance easier,” said Sumit. The tariff for this service in Bhopal is also very reasonable and a one year pass costs Rs 999 and a one month pass Rs 149. For the first 30 minutes a user has to pay Rs 30.

There are also many private players are aiming to cash in on this market in separate pockets in different cities. Bengaluru-based startup Yulu started by Amit Gupta, an IIT Kanpur alumnus and co founder of InMobi, is one of them. The company is doing user trials in Bengaluru and is in the process of launching operations in Pune shortly. “We are targeting office-goers—mainly techies who want to go to different locations in the city. They can ride the bikes till say a metro station or a bus station. Initially we are planning to go ahead with a few hundred bicycles in Bengaluru. We are planning to have dock-less bikes that can be tracked through GPS and it would be virtually impossible to steal our bicycles as there would be constant monitoring,” said Amit.

Amit further said that bike sharing is the fastest growing category within the transportation vertical and the market is estimated to reach $8 to 10 billion globally and more than $1 billion in India by 2022. "Since majority of users will be using this service on a daily basis, it can be converted into a platform to increase business potential further. Our business will be pay per use model, billing per 30 minutes and the users will have prepaid money in their wallets which can be topped up using Paytm, UPI, credit cards and debit cards. Apart from this, we will generate revenue from advertising on bicycles and the data from its usage,” he added.

In 2017, Zoomcar launched PEDL—a cycle sharing service that allows a user to rent cycles by the hour or day. The service is presently spread in seven cities—Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Gurugram. The service was recently launched at the Indian Institute of Science campus in Bengaluru and has deployed over 100 cycles at the campus, serving the local use for students and professors such as moving around the campus for short distance tasks. PEDL will be present in 24 locations across the campus. PEDL is currently available at Rs 1 for 30mins. The user can walk up to a PEDL location, scan the QR code to unlock, pay via Paytm, and drop the cycle off when done at any of the PEDL locations in the city.

Recently Ola ventured into the bicycle sharing space with Ola Pedal. Bringiing in tough competition, Chinese startup Ofo, the dockless bicycle sharing platform operated via a mobile app, entered the Indian market by signing MoUs with the Pune Municipal Corporation and Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation. Interestingly Ofo’s bicycle sharing system requires no fixed docking stations, so users can find and return bicycles anywhere in the city. This company believes that docking stations occupy pedestrian space and make it inconvenient for people to pick up and return bikes. The company feels that it also a lengthy process to get approval, funding and maintenance support from local governments and agencies.