Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bombay Bicycle Club

India's first bicycle share in Mumbai suburb

V. Ramesh was an executive at a financial services firm in India when he quit to start "FreMo", what he claims is India's first bicycle share in Thane, a northeastern suburb of Mumbai (aka Bombay).

Some areas of Thane have the horribly choked traffic characteristic of many highly urbanized areas and where local planners try to solve transportation problems by building more roads. Public transportation is apparently unreliable, and commuters using the local trains and buses have the same "last mile" problem that American transit users have. Ramesh's dream is to establish bike share depots at commuter modal bottlenecks such train stations and employment centers.

FreMo members might travel into downtown Thane by train, then show their FreMo membership card at the staffed bike depot to borrow a bike while their peers try to flag down an autorickshaw and hop on an overcrowded bus. According to FreMo, a bus trip can take upwards of a half hour or more to travel just three or four kilometers (!), while an autorickshaw can take 25 minutes to travel that distance after you've flagged down a driver. A slow bicyclist in heavy traffic can travel 4 km in 20 minutes.

Ramesh, motivated by concerns about pollution and global warming, began looking for funding for this venture in 2008. He received funding recently and hopes to open for business this month.

In the articles in Indian media on Ramesh's bike share ventures, several people have left comments on the the danger of cycling in India. In Mumbai and environs, however, it's still common practice for commuters to hang from open doors and sit on top of the trains, even when they're powered by 25kV overhead catenaries!



  1. this is crazy! a bike makes so much sense. :( hope everyone shares an opne mentality soon soon people! everywhere

    cheers. good post richard :D

  2. I grew up in Thane. I adore the initiative taken by Ramesh's group. It is definately a step in the right direction since towns around Mumbai are extremely walkable.

    There are a few problems with this business model. Firstly, the roads are not all in good condition. Most roads have garbage littered on the sides making it difficult to ride on them.

    The traffic is always congested. This coupled with the lack of following the concept of lanes makes bicycling extra challenging. The numerous hatch backs and sedans take up any space they an scrounge. Auto rickshaws, motorcycles and scooters fill up the rest of the available space. Buses are inconsiserate and brash in traffic, numerous dents and scraped paint on them a sign of their brashness.

    Though I do not advocate sidewalk riding, most sidewalks are incomplete and usually not very convineant to walk on. On the spot car pooling at the rickshaw stand is quite prevalent though more and more people seem to own cars now. Rickhaws run on an around 200cc motorcycle engine and probably get around 40 mpg.

    The only people who ride bicycles in Mumbai regularly are the produce vendors and people of a low income level. They usually ride sturdy English Roadsters, rod brake and everything. Those bikes are modified slightly to carry large baskets of produce.

    Traffic congestion is rising at an exponential rate. I learned to drive in Thane and I suspect if I can do it again. Having a bicycle share will lessen the congestion but only if it is done on a massive scale, like in Paris. None the less, any small effort is commendable.

  3. @Meli - Glad you enjoyed that.

    @Abishek - Thank you SO MUCH for that local insight. When I was reading about Mr Ramesh's story I got the idea that cycling is considered extremely dangerous and only for poor people, even more so than here in the USA. I've often wondered what it's like to cycle through south Asia style traffic.

  4. Abhishek - I could not resist writing this. I have faced these comments all over. People refuse to take up cycling for fear of traffic and road condition. But despite the same reasons, they have no problems in riding a bike. Bicycle is safer than bike. Excuse of "no bicycle lanes" is widely heard. Yet, the same guys go and buy a car or motorbike even if the roads are full of potholes. I am convinced that it is only a mindset which all of us has to overcome for our betterment. Next time when you are in Thane, I will show you enough roads without garbage. Saying currently cyclists are ONLY produce vendors and low income guys is totally wrong, I can show many decent guys riding cycle daily. I know an art teacher, an executive in call centre (he rides 28kms daily to office), an IIM Ahmedabad Alumni (who stays in Colaba and rides to Thane on weekends). Abhishek, we need to open our eyes and see the world; take initiates to make the change. We will have 101 reasons for not doing it, let us give importance to the 5 reasons as to why we should do it. Come on, lets make a change. Visit me when you are in Thane next, I will show you much more.