On foot and pedal

The teeming millions on foot and pedal are powering mobility in Indian cities. Their numbers exceed those who use cars. Yet they are victims of policy neglect. The result is high number of road accidents. Improving public transport systems and road design will encourage more people to walk and cycle. But are cities prepared to make this transition?

There is a change of trend in certain pockets of India where communities are organising themselves to assert their right to walk and cycle. These zero carbon emitters have checked the country’s pollution from soaring. They also point to the route India needs to take to make cities clean. Anumita Roychowdhury charts this route along with Ruchita Bansal, Aniruddha Bhattacharjee and Shashank Gandhi


On foot and pedal


Fazilka, Punjab


DILIP SINGH looks important. A rickshaw puller by profession, he is also the president of the south zone Ecocab’s Dial-a-rickshaw service in Fazilka, a town in Punjab. Wearing a crisp shirt and smart shoes, he flashes his android cellphone and says, “Gone are the days when rickshaw pullers were known for dirty, unkempt looks.” Just like taxis in other cities, rickshaws in Fazilka arrive at the doorstep when called on their service number.

Complete with a fleet of uniform-wearing pullers and a strict etiquette code to follow, Dial a rickshaw is a modern twist to an old mode of transport. The rickshaw pullers can lose their licence if found misbehaving. Says Navdip Asija, an IIT graduate and a leading member of Graduates Welfare Association, Fazilka: “We did not want rickshaws to be known as a poor person’s transport. In this town even the wealthy and the aged demand such services.”

One can locate the nearest Ecocab call centre by using Google Maps or GPS. Ecocab also has a website where one can check details of the registered rickshaw pullers.


Every day about 500 rickshaw pullers ferry 10,000 passengers. Each zone in the town has a dedicated phone number and at least 30 rickshaw pullers are available round-the-clock. Every puller owns a cellphone. Around 65 per cent of the pullers own their rickshaws. Ecocab provides each puller an insurance policy worth Rs 50,000. A set of woollens every winter and medical checkup and medicines are also offered at discounted prices. They also get legal aid and support for children’s schooling.

  Amritsar has adopted Fazilka’s Ecocab model. In Patiala, a non-profit has started a similar service called Green Cabs  
Fazilka’s community is reaping the benefits of the service. The Ecocab saves as much as 1,500 litres of fuel every day for the city. It has made travel safer. Resident Asha Kumari says, “Initially it used to be a long walk before I could get a rickshaw. Now all I have to do is pick up my phone. I also feel very safe.”

The service has helped the prime business area of Ghanta Ghar become a car-free zone. Following the services’ success, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has issued suo moto direction to both Punjab and Haryana to find ways to replicate Ecocab service in the rest of the state.



BICYCLES MADE from locally available bamboo variety are set to revolutionalise mobility in the Northeast. A group of 500 residents in Imphal, Manipur, have picked up Bambusa affinis to replace the costly, energy intensive steel frames used in ordinary cycles.

For Ramananda Wangkheirakpam, the initiator of the group, Manipur Cycling Club, in Imphal, the bamboo bicycle is all about eco-mobility and a livelihood source. The bamboo design is attractive and functional, which is an effective way to get a critical mass of cycle users and cut down on purchase of conventional cycles.

  Bicycles’steel frames have been replaced with locally available bamboo  
“Everyone used to ride cycles in Imphal. Now cars have taken over. But the capital city can change that around,” Wangkheirakpam believes. The initiative is coupled with the city authorities’ effort to make Imphal car-free. Cars are not allowed within the city from 10 am to 5 pm—only walking and cycling is allowed.

The club has also started a cycle rental scheme. Schools, universities and areas with high footfalls like train stations are the immediate target. Every last Sunday of the month, club members gather to cycle around the city to popularise the bamboo cycle.



Bengaluru, Karnataka


ICONIC INSTITUTIONS in Bengaluru, including the Indian Institute of Science and Bangalore University, have joined a community-driven bicycle sharing initiative to bring cycles back to the city. The Namma Cycle movement initiated by Ride-A-Cycle Foundation targets educational institutes and recreational sites.

Some eight bicycle stations have been set up within the 160 hectare-campus of the Indian Institute of Science. About 75 per cent students in the Bangalore University campus walk. Survey by the foundation shows that 85 per cent of the 75 per cent are willing to cycle if bicycles are made available. Under the initiative, a bicycle can be taken out for a maximum of 10 to 12 hours.

  Students can pay a nominal pre-paid charge and use a cycle for a maximum of 12 hours  
Students can register with an online system, get an ID card and pay a nominal pre-paid charge to use the service. A node manager will rent out the bicycle and record the rental transactions. After use, the bike can be dropped off at any station. All cycles are insured. The first three hours are free for subscribers; for casual users, 30 minutes are free of cost. Soon students will have the aid of a map, which will display stations within the campus. Namma Cycle is mobilising the corporate world to fund cycles and cycle stands. Bharti Cement Ltd and BSNL have come forward in support. Murali H R of Ride-A-Cycle Foundation has called for stronger government participation to scale up the movement.

Guwahati, Assam


CYCLE RICKSHAWS survive if their owners do. There are eight million rickshaw pullers in the country but 90 per cent do not own rickshaws. A quarter of their daily earning goes into paying rent. Pradeep Kumar Sarmah, therefore, started an innovative financing model called Rickshaw Bank. He integrated the bank model with Deep Bahan, a cost-effective rickshaw design by IIT-Guwahati. These rickshaws weigh 18 kg less than the conventional rickshaws.


Being migrants and without residence proof, rickshaw pullers cannot open bank accounts or save, take credit or get an insurance. Rickshaw Bank provides a loan of Rs 13,219 to cover the cost of a Deep Bahan (Rs 10,800), ID card, licence and two-years of insurance. A five-member common liability group of pullers then acts as a guarantor for the loan and gives assurance that the beneficiary will not default.

  Besides loan, Rickshaw Bank offers pullers Deep Bahans, which weigh 18 kg less than conventional rickshaws  
A garage acts as a meeting point for 25 pullers and also works as a collection centre for daily repayment. The amount is recovered from each rickshaw puller at a flexible rate of Rs 20-Rs 40 for a maximum period of 18 to 24 months.

Advertisement space behind the rickshaw is sold to local businesses and corporate houses. This helps reduce risk of delayed payment. Till the time rickshaw pullers are repaying the loan, the advertisement revenue—an average of Rs 2,000 per annum per rickshaw—goes entirely to the Rickshaw Bank.

After the loan is repaid, 65 per cent of the revenue goes to the rickshaw puller and 35 per cent to the bank. More than 3,000 pullers in Guwahati own Deep Bahan rickshaws today. The bank also offers pullers loan for cooking gas and purchase items, like pressure cooker and other utensils.
The bank builds fund from grants and advertisement revenue. It leverages this fund to get loans from other financial institutions. To support the initiative, the state is providing 25 per cent subsidy on rickshaws.


Mumbai, Maharashtra


A PILOT project called Cycle Chalao started a new trend in Mumbai in 2009. Cycles were made available at docking points located at various places, including railway stations. One could rent a cycle at a nominal fee paid through a swipe card and drop it off at a docking station close to the destination. Raj Janagam, the young initiator, says the enterprise grew from 33 users in the first month to 750 in 2011. Following the pilot’s success, Janagam plans to open 3,000 bicycle stands in at least five Indian cities by 2016.

  Pune and Delhi have not been able to initiate bike sharing programmes due to lack of support from government  
As a part of his plans, Janagam signed a contract with Pune to provide 25 docking stations and 300 bikes. But the project hit a roadblock due to lack of funds. Pune municipality says the service should be given for free and funds should be sponsored by corporate houses. Janagam is running from pillar to post to get corporate sponsorship or advertisement commitment. He asks, “If flyovers and roads can get government funds why not cycles?”


Delhi too faces a similar problem in initiating bike programmes as municipalities are not prepared to give adequate land for parking and other support. Often such measures degenerate to grabbing space for advertisements without adequate promotional measures for bike sharing. Pune and Delhi should take a cue from Gujarat’s Rajkot municipality.

Rajkot has started work on its bicycle project using a more appropriate financing model. After an open bidding process, the municipality pays the requisite amount for setting up the infrastructure to the successful bidder and then recovers it from the revenue generated from user fee, advertisement and parking.

Gurgaon, Haryana


MANY CYCLISTS are captive users. But cities need those who will cycle out of choice. In many neighbourhoods across cities, groups are organising cycling clubs to fight back car mania. Pedal Yatri in Gurgaon is one such group.

  Cycling is not merely a physical exercise. It is also a great way to explore one’s surroundings  
“It all began when we started exploring hidden treasures around Gurgaon, Faridabad and Delhi,” says Rajesh Kalra, founder of Pedal Yatri. Pedal Yatri cyclists ride for 25 km every day and up to 90 km on weekends. “One should not consider cycling as merely a physical exercise—it is also a way to explore your surroundings. While moving around on our bikes, we explore vast fields and beautiful gardens in the Aravallis which are awe-inspiring,” says Jasbir Singh, a design consultant and co-founder of Pedal Yatri.

Pedal Yatri has nearly 200 members and has caught people’s imagination. All one needs to do is turn up at the assembly point with cycle and be ready to go. Cycling advocacy is being taken up by many grassroots groups and neighbourhood organisations. There is a strong latent demand for cycling. If supported by infrastructure and safer access, a massive pedal traffic can be induced in Indian cities. Kalra says, “We need a cycle service at the national level.”

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  • Excellent article. Even

    Excellent article. Even though some cities prefer cycles , men's mentality is to be changed, otherwise can't fight the global poisonous gas emissions.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Definitely a good attempt but

    Definitely a good attempt but the question is that of sustainability. Attempts like these work excellently in small towns where distances are not much. But in bigger cities, it becomes very difficult to ride a cycle to destinations that are over 20 kms. Not to mention the traffic and heat in areas where the sun is a little too generous. And as mentioned in the article, even if pedestrians and riders want to implement such things, proper infrastructure has to be in place. The question with any innovation is that of sustainability.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Informative piece. And it is

    Informative piece. And it is true that public transport system and roads need to be improved to encourage such efforts. But i suppose this is still relevant for small or medium sized towns and arterial roads. This can be one component, butstct what needs serious attention for a sustainable transportation system in cities like Delhi, is "discouraging" car driving through strict policy measures (such as gasoline tax increase, parking fees, road taxes etc.).

    Recently there was a news that the Delhi Government is giving heed to concerns raised by well-off strata of the society regarding BRTs that supposedly causes inconvenience in driving, and has proposed that roads will be made wider in BRT routes to accommodate cars. But if such approaches remain, then any intention of developing a sustainable transportation system will continue to remain elusive.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Exccelent articles, I wish

    Exccelent articles, I wish that it is read by as many youngsters, ifthey decide to follow the concept of cycling , I am sure the change would come when our mother earth would be much better place to live in

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • It is highly dangerous to

    It is highly dangerous to ride a bicycle or even walking in most of the roads in Kerala, in cities and in villages. There is no space even for pedestrians. Footpaths have been encroached for road development and are covered with tar. Even if there is a footpath, it is not maintained and not walkable.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • A very comprehensive and

    A very comprehensive and excellent article, covering all aspects of the issue/s. Pressure needs to be brought on the Union and State governments to ensure that cyclists and pedestrians get their due and are not relegated to the background.
    That the bicycle industry is working with the Government of India is welcome news. They need to be represented in all policy bodies dealing with Transport.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • This article should be

    This article should be circulated to all MPs and MLAs. Hopefully some of them would appreciate the potential of human-driven mobility . Usage of cars should be drastically controlled- Singapore is held as an example-Cycle paths should be mandated , as also foot paths for walkers.
    Ecocabs can do better with technology inputs.
    Bamboo cycles can be made in North-East and supplied to other States.
    Improved designs of IIT-Guwahati can be made available to potential users elsewhere.
    National Plan should lay down targets for increased use of Cycles; funds made available on a priority for cycle paths etc.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Yes, thats indeed a good

    Yes, thats indeed a good editorial. But i believe, initiatives are good till they kick start and make news, but what is important is their sustainance and follow ups. Often these initiatives, fail to stand the test of time is because of maintainence and lack of funds. In the background of the fact that Cycling and Walking are gaining the required importance, it needs to be promoted at a magnified scale. Its time that these initiatives need to be elevated from community driven to a authority level/government level to make it more pragmatic and enforcing.Voluntary initiatives may not last that long unless they are backed by some organisations or may be the government. Its a great awareness generating article indeed. The spark is there just it needs a persistent fuel for its sustainence.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Seriously important

    Seriously important subject.
    People would love to walk and cycle if they only could.
    I have given away two bicycles in ten years because it was physically impossible to use it after eight am in the mad city traffic where I live.
    This article in particular should appear in all the vernacular papers too. Does DTE do translations?

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • Outstanding article

    Outstanding article preferring pedal power as a clean transportation.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • ThatÔÇÖs quite a lot of

    ThatÔÇÖs quite a lot of statistics you have got out there. I personally feel that this site has been doing a great job for long time. And the reputation of this site is also not bad at all. Thanks a lot for the share.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Outstanding article. Bicycle

    Outstanding article.
    Bicycle is the clean transportation and everybodyÔÇÖs vehicle.
    A bicycle's performance, in both biological and mechanical terms, is extraordinarily efficient. In terms of the amount of energy a person must expend to travel a given distance, investigators have calculated it to be the most efficient self-powered means of transportation. From a mechanical viewpoint, up to 99% of the energy delivered by the rider into the pedals is transmitted to thewheels, although the use of gearing mechanisms may reduce this by 10ÔÇô15%.In terms of the ratio of cargo weight a bicycle can carry to total weight, it is also a most efficient means of cargo transportation.
    Energy efficiency
    A human being traveling on a bicycle at 16ÔÇô24 km/h (10ÔÇô15 mph), using only the power required to walk, is the most energy-efficient means of transport generally available. Air drag, which increases with the square of speed,[6] requires increasingly higher power outputs relative to speed, power increasing with the cube of speed as power equals force times velocity. A bicycle in which the rider lies in a supine position is referred to as a recumbent bicycle or, if covered in an aerodynamicfairing to achieve very low air drag, as a streamliner.

    On firm, flat ground, a 70 kg (150 lb) person requires about 30 watts to walk at 5 km/h (3.1 mph That same person on a bicycle, on the same ground, with the same power output, can average 15 km/h (9.3 mph), so energy expenditure in terms of kcal/(kgÔÇókm) is roughly one-third as much. Generally used figures are
    ÔÇó 1.62 kJ/(kmÔêÖkg) or 0.28 kcal/(miÔêÖlb) for cycling,
    ÔÇó 3.78 kJ/(kmÔêÖkg) or 0.653 kcal/(miÔêÖlb) for walking/running,
    ÔÇó 16.96 kJ/(kmÔêÖkg) or 2.93 kcal/(miÔêÖlb) for swimming.
    Amateur bicycle racers can typically produce 3 watts/kg for more than an hour (e.g., around 210 watts for a 70 kg rider), with top amateurs producing 5 W/kg and elite athletes achieving 6 W/kg for similar lengths of time. Even at moderate speeds, most power is spent in overcoming the aerodynamicdrag force, which increases with the square of speed. Thus, the power required to overcome drag increases with the cube of the speed.
    In an urban environment, there are no typical speeds for a person riding a bicycle; an elderly person on a sit-up-and-beg style roadster might do less than 10 km/h (6.2 mph) while a fitter, younger person could easily do twice that on the same bicycle. For cyclists in Copenhagen, the average cycling speed is 15.5 km/h (9.6 mph).

    Top 10 Countries with Most Bicycles per Capita
    10. China
    People: 1,342,700,00
    Bicycles: >500,000,000
    Cyclists: >37.2%
    Fact: 60 percent of local cyclists in Shanghai (most populous city in China) pedal to work every day. The city is home to 9,430,000 million bicycles and 19,213,200 people.
    9. Belgium
    People: 10,827,519
    Bicycles: 5,200,000
    Cyclists: ~48%
    In Belgium 8% of all trips are made by bike. The average distance cycled per person per day is 0.9 km. Cycling is a national sport for the Belgians. Belgians are very serious about their bike. A real Belgian keeps an expensive, quality bike well maintained with functioning breaks and inflated tires and usually wears a helmet and a bright yellow vest to make him or herself visible to car.

    8. Switzerland
    People: 7,782,900
    Bycicles: 3,800,000
    Cyclists: ~48.8
    In Switzerland 5% of all trips and 10% of trips to work are made by bike. Switzerland is a cycling country. Here this is more than just an activity, it is a healthy way to enjoy the nature and the hospitality of local people. The Swiss even have ÔÇ£Bike to WorkÔÇ£ campaigns when employees ride their bike to work.
    People: 127,370,000
    Bicycles: 72,540,000
    Cyclists: ~56.9%
    In Japan 15 percent of trips to work are made by bicycle. In recent years more than 10 millions bikes are sold every year. In Japan bicycles are widely used as an alternative to motorcars. A lot of people use them to ride to the train stations. In nowadays more and more Japanese are taking up bicycling to work for health reasons and to avoid traffic jams and crowded trains. Many people donÔÇÖt lock their bicycles even when they leave their bikes outside railroad stations all day or overnight.

    6. Finland
    People: 5,380,200
    Bicycles: 3,250,000
    Cyclists: ~60.4%
    In Finland 9% of all trips are made by bike. The average distance cycled per inhabitant per day is 0.7 km. Fins ride bicycles without reference to the age or social status, both children and grown-ups: tourists and housewives, pensioners and students. Although the cycling season in this country traditionally starts in spring or summer, some fans of bikes is not afraid of neither the rain, nor slush, nor event winter snowstorms. The love of Fins cyclists to the bicycles can be compared with their love to dogs, or to fishing, or to sauna.
    5. Norway
    People: 4,943,000
    Bicycles: 3,000,000
    Cyclists: ~60.7%
    In Norway 4% of all trips are made by bike. In Norway, with a population of 4,943 million people and 3 million bicycles, 60.000 bicycles disappear each year, never to be seen by their owners again.Most bicycles are stolen from places owners assume are safe. Experienced thieves can take even locked bikes in about 10-20 seconds.On the streets, the value of a stolen bicycle is approximately 5-10% of the bicycleÔÇÖs original retail value, with an inverse relationship between value and percentage worth on the street. About 10% of the stolen bicycles are exported to Russia and Eastern Europe.
    4. Sweden
    People: 9,418,732
    Bicycles: 6,000,000
    Cyclists: ~63.7%
    In Finland 9% of all trips are made by bike. The average distance cycled per person per day is 0.7 km. The bicycle in Finnish family is a necessary thing such as a TV-set. For Finnish people bike is even more valuable than a TV. Often a family has a few different bicycles, depending on the number of members of a family and their age.
    3. Germany
    People: 81,802,000
    Bicycles: 62,000,000
    Cyclists: ~75.8%
    In the Germany 9% of all trips are made by bike. The average distance cycled per inhabitant per day is 0.9 km. Cycling is ingrained in the German culture. It is rare to find an adult German who did not grow up riding a bike and whose children, parents, and even grandparents probably still ride bikes. This fact makes drivers and pedestrians understanding and accommodating to bicycle riders (unlike in the US).

    2. Denmark
    People: 5,560,628
    Bicycles: 4,500,000
    Cyclists: ~80.1%
    In the Denmark 18% of all trips are made by bike.The average distance cycled per person is 1.6 km. Cycling is generally perceived as a healthier, cheaper, environmentally friendlier and often even quicker way to travel around towns than car or public transport and it is therefore municipal policy for the number of commuters by bike to go up to 40% by 2012 and 50% by 2015. In Copenhagen (the capital of Denmark) 37% of all citizens ride their bike on a daily basis. The local town hall even offers the visitors rental bikes for free.Interesting fact: the average travelling speed in Copenhagen is 16 kph for cyclists and 27 kph for cars.

    1. Country of cyclists ÔÇô Netherlands
    People: 16,652,800
    Bicycles: 16,500,000
    Cyclists: ~99.1%
    In the Netherlands 27% of all trips and 25% of trips to work are made by bike. The average distance cycled per person per day is 2.5 km. Holland and bicycles go together like bread and jam. Despite the recession the cycle-happy Dutch are still spending a lot of money on their bicycles ÔÇô nearly 1 billion eurosÔÇÖ worth a year. About 1.3 million bicycles were sold in the Netherlands in 2009, at an average price of 713 euros ($1,008) each. Amsterdam (the capital and largest city of the Netherlands) is one of the most bicycle-friendly large cities in the world. It has 400 km of bike lanes and nearly 40% of all commutes in Amsterdam are done on bike. Strangely, most cyclists donÔÇÖt wear helmets. And bike theft is a big problem, with about one of five (20%) bicycles being stolen each year.
    For comparison:
    ÔÇó People: 310,936,000
    ÔÇó Bicycles: 100,000,000
    ÔÇó Bicylists: ~32,2%
    In the USA only 0,9% of all trips are made by bike. The average distance cycled per person is 0.1 km.
    (Source: Top 10 Countries with Most Bicycles per Capita, admin 3/14/11,TOP 10 HeLL)
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks for this article. I am doing some research on bicycle culture for a paper that I am writing, and this definitely helps. I like the fact that you used a lot of numbers in the article, I am also a statistician and I like to analyze numbers like this. Huffington Post also have an interesting article on the future of bicycle cities, I will post the link below if anyone wants to read it:
    see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/12/cycle-cities_n_3712882.html

    Posted by: Garrett | 4 years ago | Reply