Bengaluru has more than 50 lakh two-wheelers on its roads. Let that number sink in. These two-wheelers make up ~70% of all motorised vehicles in the city.
This staggering number of two-wheelers is often attributed to Bengaluru’s inadequate and inaccessible public transportation system, whose modal share stands at a meagre 48% in comparison to 80% for Mumbai.
In a 2019 survey conducted by Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC), 24% of respondents who don’t use public transport cited lack of first-mile and last-mile (FM-LM) connectivity as the major hindrance. Given the need for better connectivity to public transportation and the ubiquity of two-wheelers, the city should explore the option of two-wheelers as a means of providing micro-mobility and FM-LM solutions to citizens.
Bike taxis, similar to autos or four-wheeler taxis, are a type of shared mobility in which the operator (bike rider) carries a single passenger as a pillion rider from point A to point B for a fixed fare. It is a popular mode of transport in countries like Brazil, China, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam, and has been legalised in 14 states/UTs in India.
If integrated well with public transport, bike taxis could boost adoption of public transport like BMTC, BMRCL and suburban railway, and reduce Bengaluru’s dependency on private vehicles. Studies show that shared vehicles have 2x higher utilisation, which can lead to fewer vehicles on the road.
Bike taxis are faster and cheaper
Bike taxis provide accessible, low-cost, fast and flexible mode of transportation. In a recent survey conducted by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in Gurugram and Noida, bike taxis were found to be on an average 40% faster than other modes like autos, shared cabs or private cars, and cost a reasonable Rs 39 for 6.5 km (that is, Rs 6/km).
Areas that cannot be easily accessed due to narrow lanes and lack of adequate maneuvering space can be well-serviced by bike taxis. They come with economic and environmental benefits too. According to a 2020 study by Ola Mobility Institute, bike taxis have the potential to unlock over two million livelihood opportunities and create a national revenue of USD 4.5 billion.
Also, since ride-sharing leads to better utilisation of vehicles already on the road, regulated operations of bike taxis can reduce the impact on the environment. Vehicular exhaust is a big polluter and PM10 pollution is estimated to increase by 74% by 2030 mainly because of vehicle exhaust, construction dust and on-road dust, as per a study by Urbanemissions.info and Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP). Encouraging commuters to use public transport can help in cutting down a large portion of these emissions.
Many States have already legalised bike taxis
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in 2016 recommended that States allow two-wheeler taxis to operate on similar lines as city taxis. Later in 2018, the NITI Aayog in its report on shared mobility stressed the importance of bike-sharing for last mile connectivity and as an affordable transit mode. Subsequently, 14 States/UTs including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have taken a progressive stand and legalised bike taxi services.
Internationally too, bike taxis are hugely popular in many Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Go-JEK, a bike taxi venture, is Indonesia’s first unicorn which now provides livelihood opportunities to one million people. Elsewhere, Brazil, Columbia and Nigeria too boast of a large bike taxi market.
The way ahead for Bengaluru
Closer home, the Karnataka government proposed the Electric Bike Taxi Project in its March 2020 budget session to improve FM-LM connectivity to public transport. While this is a welcome move, it is unlikely to have a significant impact in the short term unless it is supported by concrete policy action encouraging the use of electric two-wheelers as bike taxis.
Some of the concerns around bike taxis include the possible impact on the revenues of BMTC and Metro especially for short-distance commute, road-rash associated with bikes, and safety issues especially for women and child commuters.
The research report Sustainable Mobility for Bengaluru, released jointly by B.PAC and Uber, suggests some measures to mitigate these concerns. These measures include route rationalisation to ensure the bikes act as feeders to public transit to complement public transport and not compete with them, a technology-based speed limiter on the bike, regulated number of permits, GPS tracking, riders across genders, and road safety features.
In order to simultaneously push the sustainability agenda with mobility and delivery aggregators, the government should specify a certain percentage of the total fleet to be EV. This should be progressively increased to 100% EV fleet in five years.
To address its concerns, the Karnataka government should also set up a framework for a regulatory sandbox that allows time-bound testing of these new mobility services under a regulator’s oversight.
A regulatory sandbox is a framework set up by a regulator that allows startups and other innovators to conduct live experiments in a controlled environment under a regulator’s supervision.
Bike taxis can run pilots in specific geographies for a specific time period, and these pilots can be assessed on their efficacy in providing FM-LM to public transport and in reducing congestion. The government should then frame appropriate legislation based on the learnings from the pilot.
The Karnataka government should use the present conditions to unlock the potential of bike taxis to get Bengaluru moving sustainably with the overarching goal of improving connectivity to public transportation.
[The authors are Mobility Champions for the #BengaluruMoving campaign with Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC), and Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC)]