Companies are now pushing out a few thousand cycles often focused on tech parks, universities, and business-centric neighborhoods of a few cities, establishing a customer base in relatively controlled areas as they try to branch into trickier ones. Yulu is up and running in Pune and Bengaluru, where Amit Gupta says they have 4,500 cycles across both cities and an average of 15,750 trips per day.
Some of those trips happen at Cessna Business Park, where Yulu operates about 100 bicycles, 60 of which are designated for employees of networking hardware company Cisco. Gupta says around 85% of those cycles get ridden each weekday.
Launched with the bikes
Chartered Bike has 38,000 users and plans to soon have 4,000 cycles on the road, up from 500 in June of 2017, according to Executive Director Sanyam Gandhi. Mobycy CEO Akash Gupta said they launched last August with 100 bikes in Gurugram but now own 2,000 cycles across four cities, where he says they have 125,000 users who ride those cycles 7,000 times per day.
He wants 40,000 cycles across 8-10 Indian cities over the next six-nine months, dropping different numbers of cycles in different places, depending on the demand. PEDL has cycled in nine cities across the country, according to its website.
Compared with the giants of the industry, these numbers can seem precious. Mobike claims 9 million cycles and north of 200 million users across 200 cities, and the $928 million it’s raised makes the $500,000 raised by Mobycy look bad. But in India, the terms may be much more level than those numbers make it seem.
What are the priority markets?
All that capital and expansion hasn’t made Mobike profitable, and the pressure to flood markets across the globe has led to a full-on retreat for Ofo, the other Chinese cycling giant. Ofo has fled cities across the globe where the company says regulations have hindered sustainable growth, and they’ve remained in what they’re calling “priority markets,” which often seem to be larger cities with at least some established cycling cultures, such as New York and London. The plan, they say, is to reorient themselves toward making money instead of being everywhere at once.
“In the early phases of this, the companies were all fighting to win by getting big, so you kind of had to grow,” Jeffrey Towson, an investment professor at Peking University, told The Ken. But bicycles cost money, and now that a select few startups have claimed a spot atop the international order, Towson said investors are probably less inclined to dump money into cash-guzzling growth.
Ofo, which didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, has drawn back its India operations from several cities to just one, Pune—a city where its future is unclear.
Mobike India CEO Vibhor Jain didn’t sound any different from other operators when he wrote in an email to The Ken that the company started by sending 2,000 cycles into Pune, and, for now, is focused on expanding there. They’ve deployed a portion of their bicycles on the campus of the Maharashtra Institute of Technology, the results of which Jain called “very encouraging,” though he wouldn’t give specific numbers about ridership or rate of growth. Beyond Pune, he said Mobike wants to have a presence in “at least 10 cities in the next 18 months.”
Whether anyone’s expansion plans work may well depend on how city governments envision the future of urban transit.
Here’s the ideal cycling infrastructure for any Indian city, or any city anywhere, as laid out by Anne Lusk, a Harvard University research scientist who’s done a lot of research on bicycle facilities and policy: There should be lots of cycle lanes, and they should be interwoven with each other and other forms of public transit, so commuters can travel seamlessly from bus to bike to train, or however they get to work and back.
These lanes should be lined with trees that shade cyclists and keep the asphalt from broiling in the afternoon sun, and which creates a barrier between bicycles and all the vehicles with motors. Once these lanes are built, make sure they stay cycling lanes. That means no motorbikes, no parked cars, no vendors.