In the following series of articles, copious effort has been made to explore the micromobility industry from the angles of the customer, the existing infrastructure and the rolling government policies that are now brewing a theatrical display of the next de facto standard in commuting in the average commuter’s life.
All referred sources have been cited. Also, apologies in advance for grammatical/ design errors!
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Overview of the three-part series
Out of the many things a bicycle promises, it’s freedom. It’s a living monument to the very first signs of both urban and rural inclusivity that sowed the early seeds of prosperity amongst all classes of people.
The mobility outlook upon the next decade is now a chicken and an egg problem, albeit with one certainty: sustainable transportation.
Cycling has taken mainstream shape among the larger populace since the early 19th century, despite the lack of infrastructure.
So while city infrastructure is a long-term play, it is now a race between customer adoption and the push from the government to make cities more productive- whichever comes first, cycling will remain a strong opponent to other existing modes of transport.
The stage is set
8 months into the coronavirus pandemic, it appears this black swan event has proved to either be the decline of some industries, and revival for a few more.
Out of the latter lot, the bicycle industry has particularly done well. A personal stake in writing this piece is that I’ve personally taken up cycling to keep myself fit in these times, and about 2 months or so in I can sense why this is such a liberating yet impactful sporting activity.
You can check out my Strava profile here:
Strava Cyclist Profile | Varun Choraria
Varun Choraria is a cyclist from Bangalore, Karnataka. Join Strava to track your activities, analyze your performance…
Bicycles are the most efficient vehicles on the planet, 50 times more efficient than cars, and twice as efficient as walking.
-Godo Stoyke, The Carbon Buster’s Home Energy Handbook: Slowing Climate Change and Saving Money
In the US, the pandemic has caused a surge in bicycle sales. Up until 3 years ago, 80% of accounted sales were for children, and now it’s the opposite. A similar trend has been observed in India.
India’s cycle industry is the second largest in the world with the industry growing annually at 5–7%, pre-COVID. Thanks to the pandemic, the expected trajectory is now in the ballpark of 15–20% YoY. (Source here)
In fact, All India Bicycle Manufacturers Association (AICMA) have stated that cycle sales have increased two-fold. (Source here).
So, this got me wondering about the various initiatives we can take to sustain this upward momentum throughout the next decade.
Mobility as whole is going to play the central role in how we commute and how we live, as population grows and cities become more congested.
7% of your entire day is spent commuting
Indians spend close to 7% of their time commuting everyday, which is the highest than any other country in the world (Source here).
If I were trying to put my finger on the core levers of this trend, then one of the first things I’m interested to analyze is:
- How much time is spent traveling in metros and cosmos? What is the average speed per kilometer?
- What percentage of our daily commute is less than 8 kms? (8 kms is a baseline assumption here because 60% of car trips are less than 8 kms, which is roughly 20% of public-transport travel- also inclusive of trips done by bike, scooter, moped- source here)
Here is redesigned version of the infographic from the article cited above, which helps understand our first question:
And another redesigned graph below brings us closer to our case. It displays the trend across 2018 and 2019, across major Indian cities:
Cities need to be productive for you to be truly productive
According to Mckinsey, inclusive cities are productive cities- implying that cities are productive engines.
Commuters will only be incentivised to opt for cycling over other available modes (bike, moped, scooter, etc.) if the city infrastructure supports the safety and ease of travel.
Here’s one thing to keep in mind: Most metropolitan and cosmopolitan cities are now becoming immigrant hubs- and with that comes more a more inclusive two-way interaction- how easily can a citizen get from point A to B, and how many establishments of the city can the commuter interact with along the way?
A densely packed route (A to B), for example will invite a higher frequency of interaction- both with businesses and the government, implying more chances of revenues for both parties.
This however, can only happen if the economic perception of infrastructure investment changes from “costs” to “assets”, as explained in the Mckinsey article.
Good news is that this inclusive infrastructure is slowly becoming a reality: take a look at the graphs from above (figures 2 and 3). Here are some inferences from it:
- Out of the 6 major Indian cities mentioned, 4 out of 6 cities saw a decrease in distance traveled, 1 saw a decrease in average time traveled.
- But, remember that inclusivity is a ratio here: distance to time traveled- and so in that case having a reduction in only one component might not yield much collectively.
- Thus, while 4 cities have become more dense, 4 other cities have reported to witness an increase in average travel time.
In our next article focused on infrastructure PoV, we’ll try and answer this infrastructure question, with now the base trend clear in our mind: commuters are willing to adopt cycling and the sales figures are showing it.
So, is cycling all hype? How valid is the option in the day-to-day of an average working-class commuter?
Let’s draw first a comparison about the viability of the cycle itself against other modes of transport- cars, e-bikes, etc.
No matter how much I try, I don’t think I’ll be able to draw a comparison as good as Casey Neistat, the famous YouTuber in this insanely fun yet practical video.
Furthermore, you can almost consider this video as a “day in the life” of the average commuter. I’d really encourage you to take 7 minutes out and watch this film.
At 5:51 timestamp, the conclusion is drawn- citibikes, yulu bikes, bounce scooters, etc.- are actually great and can also be financially rewarding, but in the long run- primarily because:
- There’s a small learning curve involved
- Intermodal hubs or places where commuters can switch between modes of transport aren’t available everywhere. But I believe this can be easily hedged over time if the major public transport facilities like metros, sub-urban trains, buses, etc. connect every part of the city/district more frequently.
But, in terms of a sustainable future- cycles offer a morally rewarding activity (fitness + eco-friendly) in the same time it takes them to go from point A to B. Although, a large driver of e-bikes could also be placebo.
Showdown: Yulu vs. Bounce vs. Cycling
Casey has been helpful.
Industry statistics and trends have been helpful.
But, without some first-hand opinions from the general public, it would be unfair to end this article. Let’s draw our final inference for this part of the series, from consumer insights. For this section, I will be sourcing the information from Quora.
Based on the positive and negative public view points on the viability of cycling, renting a scooter or an e-bike- it’s safe to say that Casey’s experience in US vs. the average commuter in a city like Bangalore, India- isn’t too different at all.
Cities are getting better to support sustainable infrastructure. Startups like Yulu, Bounce, Vogo, etc., are really making a noticeable dent and are fundamentally changing the way people commute- riding the subscription economy wave by truly doubling down on cost-per-km pricing strategy.
From all the collated data above, it’s safe to infer that major public grievances has either fallen into the bucket of city infrastructure (lack of intermodal hubs, bike lanes and parking spaces) or the bucket of the effectiveness of the mobile app.
Cycling, on the other hand faces the threat of being eroded away due to lack of a reliable infrastructure, but if 60% of public commute falls under the <8km travel distance, then one can presume that this could potentially be a perpetual mode of transport. A large reward is the experience of freedom and the advantage of achieving fitness goals whilst commuting to work, etc.
Conclusively, there is no clear winner. It’s a lot like comparing apples to oranges here. Apples- people who prioritise fitness and eco-friendliness and don’t mind the sweaty commute.
Oranges- people who want have the same goals as “Apples” (eco-friendliness; placebo) but without the effort.
In our next article, we’ll deep-dive into the infrastructure question, with now the base trend clear in our mind: commuters are willing to adopt cycling and the sales figures are showing it. At the same time, businesses are really leading the push to drive adoption of e-bikes and rentals too.
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