Time for an e-bike share strategy for India
Dutch prime minister recently gifted PM Narendra Modi a cycle. The Dutch are avid cyclists; there are more cycles in the Netherlands than people. And cycling as a means of transport is of course green and environment friendly. However, in a hot country like India, cycles can be a rather inconvenient mode of transport for much of the year. The way forward is to put in place proactive policy for electric bike sharing nationally, complete with battery charging with solar power.
The fact of the matter is that conventional cycling is socially looked down upon in India, and we do need an alternative product that avoids much of the drudgery of manual cycling. An electric cycle is equipped with a small motor that will help propel the rider when pedalling across town. In tandem, we also need dedicated bicycle paths in urban areas–certainly in all smart cities—for safety reasons.
The way ahead is to chalk out a plan to lay out cycle paths, and earmark bicycle lanes on roads, in urban centres across the country. But concurrently, there’s the pressing need to frame forward-looking policy to boost supply of electric cycles, and have in place required infrastructure for their sharing—in the main cities to begin with. We need to leverage internet communication and biometric identity of Aadhaar cards to make electric bike sharing easy, convenient and inexpensive. We do need an urban utility vehicle that is user friendly and environmentally green, in our fast-growing urban areas.
In Delhi, there are several points where cycles are available for hire for a number of years now, but this writer does not recall having seen anyone actually hire a cycle from one of the dedicated booths, all dutifully painted green. Instead of conventional foot-powered cycles, we clearly need electric cycles for more people to adopt this green mode of transport, especially in our dense urban centres. And we need a sharing economy for e-bikes, so that users can ‘drop’ the cycles at convenient points after a commute. The idea is to leverage a large potential user base to offer quality, well-maintained e-bikes for quick hire and return at dedicated booths all over town.
It should be possible to have solar panels on the roofs of the e-bike booths.
An attractive policy for e-cycle usage would boost make in India efforts and also shore up green transport nationwide. In the medium term and beyond, it should be possible to change ordinary cycles to e-cycles with an easily available add-on device. If the response is good, it may even be possible to supply 100% electric transmission e-bikes in the market. A sharing network for e-bikes in India is surely an idea whose time has arrived. We need to dash ahead on that path.