Cycle Chalao! Bike Sharing Comes to India

Raj Janagam was growing frustrated with the lack of transportation methods in India for commuting short distances. He said 10 million people in Mumbai alone use local trains and public buses for long-distance transport, but there was no practical way for him to get from the railway station to his college. It seemed the perfect place to set up a bike share program. But since none existed, he was going to have to do it.

It took a year and a half of research, but he and some friends launched Cycle Chalao, a bike share program that piloted in Mumbai in 2010. Then Pune, the bike capital of India according to Janagam, became interested in starting its own program. He said Pune is the only city in India with dedicated bike lanes—125 kilometers of them—and he said the local municipality has been looking to revamp local infrastructure, so it made for a good partnership.

He had come up with a model that would charge users about $3 to $4 per month, but the city asked Cycle Chalao if they could make it a free service for citizens, and the city government would provide the funding to make that happen, a step that became final this summer.

The bike share won't be completely free, however. The plan is to charge users $10 for a five-year period, and will operate on a very similar model to bike share programs in the US. The first half hour is free, and additional time will eat into the $10 deposit. But it is designed to be affordable and pretty darn close to free, keeping in line with the objective to target low-income users.

The major difference between Cycle Chalao and bike share programs abroad will be in how the bike stations themselves are run: An attendant will be employed at each stand both to ensure security for the bikes, and to oversee bike maintenance and individual transactions. The first 25 locations have been identified, with 12 bikes at each station, and the target (as requested by the city of Pune) is to reach three users per bicycle. "Once we reach three users, we will consider scaling," said Janagam, who added the goal is to reach 2,000 bikes in the next two years.

But the work of Cycle Chalao doesn't stop there. Janagam, who was a fellow at the Unreasonable Institute this year, said they've also been talking with the Ministry of Urban Development, which is interested in working at the national policy level to boost bicycle transport. He said the ministry has a target of getting into 10 cities over the next five years.

Cycle Chalao! Bike Sharing Comes to India
Cycle Chalao! is bringing bike-sharing to Pune -- and the federal government is looking to help the program expand around the country.

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