Communication professional Neha Bhaksakarn uses a bicycle to go to the market to buy vegetables and grocery. Earlier, she commuted via public transport — bus or rickshaw — but in the last few months, she prefers bicycle over other modes of transport.
Not surprisingly, bicycle sales in India have grown by more than twofold in the last five months, with people opting to cycle short-to-medium distances and to avoid crowded public transport amid the Covid-19 pandemic. A total of 41,80,945 bicycles have been sold between May- September 2020, according to the All India Bicycle Manufacturers Association (AICMA). Experts say that this trend would continue considering health awareness after the coronavirus pandemic.
Various studies show that about 16-57 per cent of urban commuters are pedestrian and about 30-40 per cent of commuters use bicycles. The government and experts agree that non-motorised transport (NMT) will occupy the prime, non-negotiable position in every form of urban mobility discourse and intervention.
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According to Hardeep S Puri, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs, in the aftermath of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, India is likely to experience a behavioural change in urban mobility. This crisis also presents an opportunity to guide the recovery of urban transport towards long-term development goals. He was recently speaking at the 13th Urban Mobility India Conference on the theme of ‘Emerging Trends in Urban Mobility’ in New Delhi.
The Ministry has earlier issued an advisory to States asking to encourage and revive NMT as most of the urban trips are clocked in under five km. “NMT offers a perfect opportunity to implement in this Covid-19 crisis as it requires low cost, less human resource, easy and quick to implement, scalable and environment friendly” the Ministry stated.
NMT (also known as active transportation and human-powered transportation) includes walking and bicycling, cycle rickshaws, skates, skateboards, push scooters and hand carts.
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What cities can do
Cities across the world have taken steps to promote NMT. New York has added 40 miles of new NMT lanes to support cyclists; Oakland, US has closed 10 per cent of its streets for motor vehicles. Bogotá, Colombia has added 76 km of cycle overnight while in Milan, Italy, 22 miles of streets have been transformed to cycling lanes.
Sujit Patwardhan of the Pune-based Parisar organisation which is working for sustainable urban transport and environmental issues says that local governing bodies must take steps to facilitate NMT and spend less on creating facilities like parking for private vehicles.
Civic activist Vivek Velankar says that municipal corporations must launch anti-encroachment drives to remove encroachments on cycle tracks and footpaths. He insisted that cities must execute schemes like ‘ cycle on rent’ with more efficiency.