Opinion: “Bengaluru needs bike taxis for better connectivity, fewer traffic jams”

legalising bike taxis

A woman riding pillion on Ola's bike taxi in Gurugram. Representational image: OLa Mobility Institute Report (2020)

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.

Giving preference to shared mobility over private ownership of vehicles and improving FM-LM connectivity to public transport can together decongest the city’s roads of its huge population of privately-owned bikes. 

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.

Source: CGAP

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)]


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About Aditya Thokala 1 Article
Aditya Thokala is data scientist at Nggawe Nirman Technologies.
About Febin Sagir 1 Article
Febin Sagir is AVP Business Development at Autoninja.
About Pranav Joshi 1 Article
Pranav Joshi is an architect with the Flying Elephant Studio.
About Samyak Gupta 1 Article
Samyak Gupta is a Cloud and DevOps Engineer at Royal Dutch Shell.
About Revathy Ashok 1 Article
Revathy Ashok is Managing Trustee and CEO of B.PAC.
About Pooja J Patel 1 Article
Pooja J Patel is Research Associate and Program Coordinator with B.Mobile, B.PAC.

2 Comments

  1. There are contradictions in this article. The first paragraph states that the city’s over 50L two-wheelers (70% of all vehicles) is attributable to inadequate and inaccessible public transportation system.

    Agreed, but first of all, the answer to inadequate and inaccessible public transportation system is to improve them. This is happening as steps are being undertaken to increase metro coverage, introduction of suburban rail & feeder bus facilities.

    Second, assuming bike-taxis would really help people to switch to public transport, the question that arises is why these 50L bike owners are not using public transport substantially since they already own bikes with which they can self-drive & reach public transport, isn’t it?

    Third, how is ride-sharing relevant to bike-taxis? Is it an assumption that significant numbers of existing bikes will change over & become bike-taxis, & so there would be better utilisation of vehicles already on the road? Such a premise is flawed.

    I am not able to access the NITI-Aayog report, but bike-sharing for last mile connectivity is not the same as bike-taxis. So, the reference to bike-sharing seems out of place in the context of bike-taxis, since it is not sharing. Bike-taxis would invite more unemployed to take this new line of work & they would end up buying new or second hand two-wheelers whose owners may have migrated to newer vehicles.

    There may not be much harm with bike-taxis for cities that do not have such large numbers of two-wheelers, where they are not a menace on the streets nor a problem for law enforcement. However, the share of bikes is already far too high in Bangalore & violations are rampant & increasing.
    This means that steps need to be taken to limit & reduce the number of two-wheelers to ensure spaces for pedestrians & non-motorized transport is not violated. Two-wheelers are far more nimble than three-wheelers & competition between them to capture passengers may further endanger road safety with speeding & safety for women and child commuters, not to mention more chaos & increase in the number of motorized bikes.

    I think the overarching goal of improving connectivity to public transportation is better acheived through feeder buses & increased coverage of public transport than through nimble two or three-wheelers, even if they may help some sections – i.e. the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

  2. Pollicy solutions could be fixing Ratio in respect to bike to 3/4 wheeler vehicle as a pre condition for taxi business.

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