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.”

The Netherlands has set the bar

cycleThe whiff of change in India shadows the global trend towards human-powered mobility. A typical count may still show low share of cycling globally—about five to 10 per cent in western Europe, 14 per cent in Japan, and less than a per cent in the US. But active policies have reversed trends in some countries, including the Netherlands and Denmark. This will only get stronger with nations like Germany, the UK, Sweden and Finland charting policies on cycling and walking.

During the 1950s when the Netherlands was a poorer country, an overwhelming number of people there used cycles. As money started pouring in, the country began investing heavily in car infrastructure. Tramlines and railways were closed, and there was no policy on cycling. Jeroen Buis of non-profit Dutch Cycling Embassy says, “It was a recipe for mass motorisation and destroyed quality of life. Its ugly signs were high rates of accidents, parking crisis and high economic costs of congestion.” This angered the Dutch. The authorities responded by setting a target of doubling use of public transport by 2012. Policies followed to restrict car use and promote cycling and walking. The Dutch cities have been able to achieve this by bringing shops, offices and houses closer (see graph: ‘Cycle use in Amsterdam’). They have stopped growth of suburban shopping malls. On many roads, four car lanes have been reduced to two, and six-lane roads and flyovers have been banned inside the city. In more than 50 per cent of the roads inside the cities the speed of motorised vehicles is capped at 30 km/hour.


All these efforts have made the cities safer. The number of people killed in traffic accidents dropped from 3,200 in 1972 to 12 in 2009.

A global walk

It is not just the West, even the emerging economies of Latin America and Asia are bringing home change. And the change is community-driven. Activist Lake Sagaris has spearheaded the Ciudad Viva (Living City) movement in Chile, which saw 25 communities fighting an urban highway that threatened to destroy neighbourhoods. Says Sagaris, “Urban planning should be people-centric, not car-centric.” The demand is to utilise five per cent of the transport budget in establishing walking and cycling facilities and raise walk and cycle share to 60 per cent.

  Finland and Norway are at the forefront of scaling up cycle infrastructure  
Japan is investing in bicycle lanes and parking facilities and offering property and business tax reductions to rail operators to provide bicycle parking near stations. This includes a Cycle & Ride programme. Japan’s Saga city has developed a time sharing plan, which gives priority to cycles and restricts car use during commuting hours. Sri Lanka has started mega cycling events called Cyclone, pushing the National Road Development Authority to include cycling in highway development. “It will bring together 5,000 cyclists,” says Thushitha Sugathapala, director general of Sri Lanka’s Sustainable Energy Authority. Meanwhile, government and non-profits have started work towards pedestrianisation in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Rich nations are laying down design codes for roads to help people walk and cycle freely. Japan has specified that trunk roads must have bicycle tracks. European countries are making one-way streets for cars, which are accessible for cycling in both directions. Germany is working towards integrating all modes of transportation.

Cities like Delhi have high walk and cycle trips, thanks to compact design

India enjoys a share of walking and cycling that the rest of the world is desperate to achieve. About 30 to 60 per cent of all trips in Indian cities are non-polluting because of high share of cycling and walking. By 2030-31, an average Indian will travel thrice as many kilometres as they travelled during 2000-01. Any further slide in walking and cycling share can lower liveability of cities. Interestingly, the smaller cities have much higher share of these trips. But in absolute numbers these trips are high in big cities. Delhi tops in the number of cycle trips and is second to Mumbai in walk trips (see graphs: ‘Number of walk trips’ and ‘Number of cycle trips’). Visibly there are more cars than bicycles, but there are roads in Delhi where cycle volume exceeds car volume. Shivaji Marg, near Subhash Nagar Metro station in West Delhi, records 18,000 cycle and cycle rickshaws passing through it every day while the number of cars is 4,000. Near Uttam Nagar West Metro station, there are 18,000 non-motorised transport vehicles against 14,000 cars per day (see box: ‘Who has more right on Delhi roads?’).

walk trips
cycle trips

Wondering how that’s possible? Well, the answer is: compact cities. The average distance of 45 per cent of all travel trips is less than five kilometres. The short trips that are substantial are often not properly accounted for. What’s more, the urban majority are poor and need to access offices within short distances to keep travel cost affordable. Many are too poor to even take a bus and, therefore, are captive cyclists or walkers.

Roads: scene of homicide

Delhi’s chief secretary P K Tripathi recounts his personal experience of how he had planned to cycle to office only to scrap it later because he did not feel safe. He found walking comparatively safer. Tripathi is not alone—many Delhiites fear the same. According to the National Crime Records Bureau report of 2010, Delhi records the highest pedestrian fatality. It also has the highest number of road fatalities. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways puts the number of fatalities in 2010 at 160,000. Pedestrians and cyclists account for 60 to 90 per cent of all traffic fatalities. Poor road design, traffic speed and unruly driving habits make pedestrians and cyclists vulnerable.

  Over the past decade, laws have banned cycle rickshaws from prime areas in cities to make room for cars  
A study by the University of Michigan and IIT-Delhi shows the number of people killed in road accidents in India has increased at the rate of eight per cent a year in the past decade. Buis of non-profit Dutch Cycling Embassy says: “Indian cities witness 400 fatalities in road accidents daily where the victims are predominantly pedestrians and cyclists.” If a terrorist group would kill 400 people in India daily, would not the army be called? he asks.

An assessment of accident data by Delhi non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in 15 cities shows that vehicles dominate cities. Cities with high absolute number of walkers and cyclists are 50 per cent more vulnerable to road accidents than those with moderate numbers, it shows (see graph: ‘Share of cyclists and pedestrians in road accidents’,).


A study by Dinesh Mohan of Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme at IIT-Delhi has contested WHO claim that road accident-related deaths and injuries have reduced in the West, while they are large in the developing world. He says the fewer number of pedestrian accidents in the US is due to car-centric infrastructure which has dramatically reduced the pedestrian count. Secondly, even US cities with lower accident risks show more compact design, which makes travel distances shorter and safer.

Bicycle industry has stakes

Cycles present a strange number game. While bicycle use is declining in Indian cities, the industry’s performance is bullish. India produces two million cars and 15 million cycles in a year. Bicycle ownership is high in most cities—in Delhi 34 per cent of households own bicycles, but less than a quarter owns cars. “The fortune of the bicycle industry is linked with sustainability of cities,” says Pankaj Munjal, managing director of Hero Cycles. He adds that at present richer countries are selling more cycles. This disconnect between rising bicycle sales and declining use needs to be resolved immediately.

Who has more right on Delhi roads?
While the total number of daily car trips in Delhi is three million, that of walking and cycling together is eight million. Cycling trips at 2.8 million are almost equal to car trips. Urban road design should be dictated by the interest of walkers and cyclists
Domestic bike market is expanding steadily at four per cent every year. The market for high-end bikes and bikes for kids is growing more aggressively. Industry sources confirm that product portfolio is changing. Until the past decade, 90 to 95 per cent units were sold in the standard, low-cost bicycle segment. Today, 50 to 55 per cent of new customers are opting for high-end designs, and growth of recreational users is sharp.

Can the bicycle industry shoulder some of the responsibility of promoting bike infrastructure? I D Chugh, director of Atlas Cycles, says in terms of corporate social responsibility his company is looking into the possibility of establishing demonstration parks with dedicated cycle tracks. “Industry is also engaged in developing an infomercial with the government to promote the benefits of cycling.”

Four major manufacturers—Atlas, Hero, Avon and TI—have initiated discussions with the Prime Minister’s Office to promote cycling and develop adequate infrastructure. “A white paper on the issue has been prepared,” says Chugh. The consortium will also engage with the Union environment ministry. Expectations from the industry go beyond this. Murali of Namma Cycle movement in Bengaluru says, “Cycle industry should help fund cycle infrastructure.” But industry representatives differ. “Cycle manufacturers cannot start spending money on installing cycle tracks in cities. It is too expensive, and not feasible for private manufacturers. We will prefer to work with the government,” Chugh says.

The global bicycle industry has proven to be an important player in promoting cycling. It is actively working with authorities and non-profits in the planning process. For example, the industry has worked on the development of VeloInfo, a web-based database of expertise on bicycle planning policies and bicycle use in Europe. The industry is continuously working towards bicycle products with enhanced safety and comfort, including electronic devices for sensor lights, electronic gear changes with energy from hub rotation. India is following the technology trend but a more proactive role will benefit its own market.

Victims of neglect

Indian cities have the potential to set things right; yet walking and cycling are the endangered modes of transport. The biggest enemy is the disdain of the affluent. This is breeding hostile policies in cities. Obsession with high speed is discouraging walkers and cyclists.

  Industry wary of funding cycle infrastructure; says it prefers working with the government  
Over the past decade, laws have banned cycle rickshaws from prime areas of many cities to make room for cars. Delhi is fighting a bitter battle to protect its 0.6 million cycle rickshaw fleet as Delhi Municipal Corporation (Cycle-Rickshaw) By-laws of 1960 has restricted their number to 99,000 in ear-marked zones. The Act has also empowered authorities to confiscate, crush and sell rickshaws if they are found plying without a licence. But reprieve came from the Supreme Court when in its April hearing of the public interest petition it quashed the civic body’s bid and castigated it for taking away the right of the “weak and meek”. The apex court asked the municipal corporation, “Are you prepared to scrap cars? Impound those involved in drunken driving or even remove them from roads, say for a period of 10 years?”

In 2008 Kolkata curtailed bicycles on 39 key roads following a notification issued by the city’s police. It states that with a view to “providing safe and uninterrupted movement of vehicular traffic, we hereby order that no bicycle shall ply or remain standing between 9 am and 7 pm on all days”. Activist Debasish Banerjee of Kolkata laments, “It is ironical that while globally cities are bringing back bicycles and trams, Kolkata despite its rich legacy is letting them decay.”

The anger in cities is palpable. Ranjit Gadgil of non-profit Parisar in Pune says, “Pune has 88 km of cycle tracks as opposed to 130 km shown on paper. But even this is not usable because of poor design.” In Hyderabad, activist Kantimati Kannan has filed a human rights petition against the commissioner of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation over pedestrian facilities in the city. Kannan says, “Those who walk cannot decide, and those who decide do not walk.” Bhargavi S Rao, an activist with non-profit Environment Support Group in Bengaluru says that their public interest petition in the High Court of Karnataka has led to the court directive that no road widening could proceed without conforming to the Karnataka Town and Country Planning laws. This means the authorities should hold public consultations before implementing any project. This has helped stop widening of many roads, saving trees and footpaths.

Funding for road development ignores cycling, walking infrastructure

imageSeveral big cities have started working towards achieving the target of 80 per cent share of public transport by 2020. Even a 50 per cent increase in kilometres travelled by public transport will lead to massive demand for walking and cycling facilities.

The National Urban Transport Policy has made the right noises about promoting walking and cycling. However its funding arm, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), has played spoilsport. Almost the entire booty so far has been given for roads, flyovers and parking structures. Only a few small-scale projects in smaller cities like Nanded in Maharashtra have seen some transformation of its footpaths and cycling paths. Currently, the Union Ministry of Urban Development is framing a public bicycle sharing scheme. But the Planning Commission has already argued against it, citing lack of funds.

The experience with JNNURM has left many fuming about Central funding that often comes tied with car-centric prescriptions. Gadgil of non-profit Parisar in Pune says, “Delhi should not spend more on urban transport. It is capable of managing within its allotted budget and sparing money for walking and cycling promotion.”

Hits and misses

Though nascent, local action has taken roots in cities. But this process will have to be guided with good design and policy. A case in point is a 45 km cycle track built in segments in Delhi during Commonwealth Games in 2010. Delhi non-profit Centre for Science and Environment’s assessment shows that although these facilities are specially designed for cycles, they are still seen as streetscaping and not a usable system. There are many design gaffes that compromise usability: lanes are discontinuous, inadequate exit points and no measures have been taken to calm traffic at the merging points. What’s more, junctions are poorly designed; cars encroach upon footpaths and cycle paths. Consequently, cyclists prefer to stay on the congested roads.

  Cities need to reallocate road space to urban majority to make way for walking and cycling. There should be zero-tolerance policy for violations  
The cycle-and-walk lane in Delhi’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor has scored the best in CSE assessment in terms of engineering design and usability. The lane has been successful in increasing bicycle traffic. During peak hours, more than 2,000 bicycles cross the lane in a day. Low lights, signages and toilets, street furniture, and junctions for safe crossing have elevated human dignity and respect for citizens. There are lessons to learn. “Delhi is embarking on implementing a bicycle master plan and is also revising the Delhi Master Plan. This is an opportunity to get things right,” Delhi’s environment secretary Keshav Chandra says. According to Satyendra Garg, joint commissioner of police, cycling infrastructure should be created on a priority basis in areas with high cycling traffic. Traffic police analysis shows how accidents have increased on NH 1 (New Delhi to Attari, Punjab) after it became signal free, forcing people to jaywalk.

Road design speaks for itself. Anvita Arora, urban planner who is designing walking and cycling lanes in Naya Raipur in Chhattisgarh, says, “Roads are designed for cars by dividing the road from the middle and pushing walkers and cyclists to the uneven edges that are often not usable.” The new street design guidelines issued by the Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning & Engineering) Centre in Delhi could bring the requisite change.

Prasanna Desai, urban planner who has transformed prime neighbourhoods like Aundh ITI Road in Pune, has the last word: “The depth of democracy is decided by the width of the footpath and cycle path in the city.”

Down To Earth