Twenty years ago, when European cities like Cambridge and Copenhagen were still working out the kinks in their bike share programs due to constant thefts, Indore, one of the fastest growing cities in India, already had a small-scale, yet well-established, informal bicycle sharing system.
Despite a limited number of infrastructural resources available to cyclists throughout the city, 20 percent of Indore residents rely on bicycles as their primary mode of transportation, with a good majority of that percentage dependent on the bike share services exclusive to the city. Currently there are close to 2,000 bicycle rental shops found along the city’s periphery in mostly lower-income communities. The shops offer informal bike sharing services to a main clientele of factory workers and laborers who generally use bicycles as a primary mode of transportation.
To this day, Indore’s program is largely based on trust: Shop owners typically only rent out bicycles to people they know or who have been recommended by existing customers. Each bike in the system can generate up to 180 Indian rupees (about $4) per month for shop owners, who also provide additional services like on-site maintenance and repairs. A few shops also allow bike rentals for a refundable deposit of 2,000 Indian rupees or for the renter’s personal identity card as collateral.
In an effort to diversify and expand bicycle use in Indore, now largely accessible only to lower-income communities in the city, the public limited company Atal Indore City Transport Service Co. Ltd. (AICTSL) has agreed to build atop the city’s present bike share system and expand its accessibility, as well as its current services.
In conjunction with EMBARQ India, AICTSL conducted a recent survey with 15 bike vendors to assess the project’s financial viability and find necessary structural improvements. Despite the over 120,000 bicycles available for rent in the city, vendors have revealed that around three to four times a month the demand for rentals exceeds the number bicycles available, according to the report.
The great demand has kept the system running even though many participants are unhappy with the way it functions. A whopping 70 percent of survey respondents noted that they were generally dissatisfied with bicycle safety and parking accessibility throughout the city. Another 57 percent reported that colliding with other vehicles remains a major concern.
The present bike share program is also not yet systematized, and as a result renters must, at the day’s end, drop off their bicycles at the same off-central shop where they initially picked up their rental. AICTSL hopes that the integration of bike stations throughout the city will allow for a more recreational cycle culture, while giving bikers the flexibility to drop off their rental at any of the bike stations located throughout the city.
Safety and practicality are not the only issues surrounding cyclists. It appears that increasing bicycle use throughout Indore will require an ideological transformation, as well as the necessary structural improvements.
The survey reports that 94 percent of regular bikers have an annual income of less than $6,000, which is the average income of the state Madhya Pradesh. Furthermore, a reported 32 percent of regular cyclists were found to have lower levels of formal education. There are signs that the biking community could be made more diverse if higher safety standards were put in place; 80 percent of 3,000 non-cycling Indore residents said that they were willing to try biking if the safety and quality of bikes improved. One quarter of higher-income non-users expressed a general disinterest in cycling altogether.
Indore transportation officials acknowledge this socioeconomic divide in their report, stating that “The existing sharing facilities are all tuned/focused towards low income groups, thus leaving out a large part of [Indore] society… bicycle sharing program promoted by AICTSL will not be competing with the existing system for customers.”
Gautam Singh, AICTSL’s executive director, told the Times of India that his agency has identified 34 locations for the first stage of its expansion, which “will include about 1,000 bicycles, with each bicycle costing around Rs 5,000 ($98).” To break that down, each bike will now cost as much as the weekly wage of a regular cyclist in Indore. The cost of a new bicycle at a current bike share shop in Indore is typically half of the proposed amount.
Financial stigmas are not the only social dilemmas that surround biking. The report also notes that only five percent of female respondents felt comfortable actually taking to the streets on a bike.
While AICTSL has looked to Amsterdam’s bike sharing program and other international sites for inspiration, the Indore transit company acknowledges that the city has unique hurdles it must address before implementing a successful and all-inclusive program.