Social distancing spurs interest in bike-rental services

Rise in demand for rented two-wheelers

A batch of just-returned e-bikes receives a spray of disinfectant before they are picked up by new riders. Photo credit: Yulu

While the fear of COVID-19 drives commuters’ aversion to mass public transport, IOT-based two-wheeler rental start-ups are drawing this segment of intra-city commuters to their personal transport-based platforms.

Sensing an opportunity, they are ramping up their network of pick-up and drop-off points, raising employee and vehicle sanitation and increasing their fleet of pre-sanitized scooters and electric bikes. To make the prospect attractive and reduce their logistical burden (read, frequent sanitisation) they are even offering longer contracts.

New commuting needs

Admitting that the market had “flipped”, operators say that they had to wake up to new commuting needs and commuter expectations after the pandemic struck.

Apparenty, the demand for two-wheeler rentals almost tanked to ‘zero’ during the nationwide lockdown. Even the weekend demand for leisure travel, which used to be a major revenue generator, shrunk by 40%.

Anand Ayyadurai, CEO, Vogo

“As a result of COVID-19, on an immediate basis, our services were significantly hit from a business perspective. We had to adapt to social distancing norms. Safety of staff and customers was the primary concern most of the time,” Anand Ayyadurai, CEO of Vogo, a two-wheeler renting start-up, said.

As the government eased the lockdown in phases, things began to improve. “Besides the food delivery operators, the renewed interest came from health care professionals and young executives who earlier were dependent on Ola, Uber and buses to commute to work” Ankur Sengupta, Head of Business Development at Drivezy, another platform that rents self-drive two-wheelers and cars, said. 

Socially-distanced rides

All two-wheeler rental platforms are noticing a dramatic shift among intra-city travelers towards their mode of transport. They see that the skeletal services run by the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation has not evoked much confidence among commuters. Also, while BMTC’s last-mile connectivity issues remaine, the self-driven bike-rentals tick both the last-mile and social-distancing boxes.

Other than its own pick-up/drop points, Drivezy is now looking to expand by setting up a franchise model across the city. Their plan is to add 6000 more two-wheelers to the fleet.

“We will soon announce new locations. The diversity of network will instill customer confidence for on-demand availability and last-mile connectivity of their drives,” Ankur said.

While earlier, Vogo ensured availability of their vehicles near public transport hubs, it is now redrawing its strategy given the loss of commuter interest in mass transport. It has also introduced value-added-services like door-step delivery of sanitized vehicles.

E-bike numbers double

While commuter interest in bike rentals in general is increasing, it is particular higher for cheaper options. Yulu, the only electric bike operator in this segment– the others run conventional petrol-engined scooters — has seen never-before demand for its single-seater lithium-battery powered scooters.

Amit Gupta, CEO, Yulu

Amit Gupta. Co-Founder & CEO at Yulu e-bikes says that ridership for the e-bikes has returned to 75% of its pre-Covid-19 numbers ever since they resumed operations from May 4th. While until February they had about 3,000 electric bikes, user demand pushed the company to scale the number to 7,500 bikes.

With IT-sector largely adopting the work-from-home model, Yulu’s new riders are from other service sectors. “They are food deliverers, domestic workers and others who found it viable for mobility. We also see longer distances and longer duration of commute among our riders,” Amit notes.

The IOT based platform also trained its workforce in sanitizing the fleet. The user app now displays each bike’s ‘Last Sanitized’ status on a real-time basis.

Yulu said that it now allows riders to keep the bikes with them for 7 days to 60 days. “Riders can run up to 60 kms on a fully charged battery. Long-term riders can also swap their vehicles or recharge their rides at Yulu Zones, or even order for the exchange of battery packs,” he adds.

Logistic challenges

In order to facilitate sanitizing of their vehicles, Vogo and Drivezy have done away with ‘hourly’ based rentals. While Vogo now offers a minimum 12-hour rental, Drivezy’s basic package is a 24-hour rental.

“When a vehicle is rented on an hourly basis, it means that it requires sanitization before it is handed to the next rider. A full day booking, on the other hand, gives sufficient time to sanitize the vehicle before it is handed over,” Ankur says.

They have also stopped providing helmets, given the difficulty in repeatedly cleaning the soft fabric and foam in the helmets. Riders now have to carry their own helmets.

Bounce, another IOT-based two-wheeler rental platform did not respond to our queries.

Nikhil Kumar, a 30-year-old, who is a regular user of IOT-based two-wheeler rentals, says that while companies are very optimistic about the measures taken, ultimately, the cost and quality will matter. “Despite the measures taken, sharing the ride is still risky. Customers have to visit the collection or delivery points and interact with executives from time to time. Moreover, if the annual cost of rental of such bikes is close to or equivalent to owning a bike, then I would rather own a bike than rent a ride,” says he.

Also read:
Can BMTC get Bengalureans to use the bus during COVID?

How rental bikes are easing daily commute in Bengaluru

What will it take to nudge people towards public transport post COVID?

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About Harsha Raj Gatty 26 Articles
Harsha Raj Gatty is Editor and Co-founder of StoryInfinity news agency (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP).

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