By Aditya Kumar Gupta
As one of the largest populations in the world, it comes as no surprise to find clogged roadways all across the major cities in India. The number of vehicles is ever increasing, the perfect example being the 31% rise in commercial vehicle sales since the beginning of 2018. Increased vehicles mean increased pollution, which has already reached alarming levels; the fact that eight out of 15 of the world’s most polluted cities are Indian is a testament to this statement. The need in such an environment is for small and eco-friendly vehicles. What best serves this simple description than a bicycle. India has finally decided to venture into the field of dock-less bike sharing, having drawn inspiration from the markets of Europe, USA and China.
India: A ready market for bikes
Ola has begun business in bike sharing with the introduction of its platform in the IIT Kanpur campus. The platform called Pedal has proven to be a success, although in a limited and closed environment. Zoomcar has also launched a similar platform called Pedl; this start-up has been established in the HSR layout region of Bengaluru, serving as a better business as it is in a more open and contingent environment. Mobi too has launched a platform called Yulu in the city of Bengaluru with a similar motive. All these start-ups come with the entrance of Chinese mammoths from this industry planning to enter India, such as OFO and Mobike.
India is the most suitable market for such a business due to its immense population and congestion. A bicycle manages to take the same time as a car because of the heavy traffic. Considering the fact that the primary motive of this industry is to make the final stretches of commute convenient, such as the kilometre from the metro station to software professional’s workplace, it has a ready demand in the market. This system will empower the people involved in the control of their own travel instead of dealing with the uncertainties of public transport. Additionally, such a system shall appeal to everyone’s conscience as this is a definitive way of curbing pollution, something which is of a dire need in the current environment scenario.
The technology behind it
The technology used by such start-ups is the most admirable aspect of this industry. All meant to be dock-less platforms, their primary motive is to reduce human interaction and make operations automated. These platforms have mobile applications through which such bikes can be located through QR codes, something used by Yulu that unlocks the vehicle, hence ensuring security. The mobile apps once having unlocked the vehicle often have timers for which the vehicle is unlocked and a GPS system for better navigation on part of the user. The company uses bikes that are fitted with tracking devices in order to curb any unwanted practices. Yet lack of drop-off points obstructs convenience for every user. The Chinese companies use techniques that allow users to drop the vehicle off wherever they wish while incurring a pick-up charge of one Yuan; this goes a long way in making travel better for the consumer for a minimal cost and could be implemented by Indian businesses. Such a technique would raise employment as well, being the only means of manual pick-up hence providing people with certain degrees of livelihood.
These app-based businesses avail benefits through membership plans, such as two hourly rides per day at a price of Rs 99 per month. Hence this allows better tracking and greater relationship development throughout the whole set-up. Major pick-ups points are normally located within a hundred metres of public transport stops, making accessibility easier for users.
Major issues in India
A major problem for bicycles in India is the lack of proper infrastructure, a huge hindrance to the growth of such businesses. Lack of infrastructure is not a problem for countries like China and US, as proper infrastructure is a given in these economies. Major efforts are being made by such businesses to collaborate with the government in order to completely eradicate this problem. Cities like Mysuru have developed proper bike sharing platforms with a promise of designated bike-lines with governments actively working towards their development. The development of proper infrastructure can ensure a well-established bike-sharing network in Indian cities within the next three to five years.
These start-ups have primarily been established in very limited and small environments, most of them on college campuses; this does not expose the business to the contingencies and issues which occur out on the open streets. The concentration in such a protected environment is not good for these companies, they must focus on more city establishments. Even with cities, the focus should be on complete implementation and not just a localised area, which again is a much-protected environment at least according to space. Although a city-wide implementation requires greater investment, it is more important for the establishment of a brand image. Indian start-ups have started getting major seed investments, however, the must think along the lines of large-scale expansion and development if they are going to compete with these Chinese giants.
Failed in China, good for India
Bike-sharing may have failed in China but India is an economy where such a business is very genuinely needed. Proper establishment and infrastructure can ensure that this business will thrive in the Indian markets. Companies in this field have managed to climb up to valuations of almost two to three billion dollars. This is a brilliant opportunity, which with the right support from governments can completely change travel in major cities. Curbing pollution is yet another benefit derived from this business. Better technological implementation is the key factor which fuels competitive edge in this industry. Bike-sharing is most definitely the way ahead with regards to pollution and congestion concerns and a field that most definitely needs to venture deeper into.
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