#INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
SPECIAL FEATURE TO CELEBRATE WOMEN’S WEEK
Our Women’s Week Special Feature continues to bring out anecdotes of extraordinary change makers and social entrepreneurs. Nikita Lalwani the First Bicycle Mayor of Vadodara, India unfolds her cycling journey as she completes her two year’s tenure in April 2019.
I have been cycling since 2014 and in 2016 was appointed as a Bicycle Mayor by ‘BYCS’, an Amsterdam based NGO whose mission is to increase cycling ridership across the world. They are running this Bicycle Mayor Leadership Program with a goal to have ‘Worlds 50% of commute on a bicycle by the year 2030.’
Our cities have reached an intersection of environmental issues, health issues, congestion issues – three major problems in the world. And the bicycle is a simple solution which is not explored to its full potential. At this point of convergence, many countries across the globe are working to revive the cycling culture and there is a lot to do in India also to make cycling fun and interesting.
Vadodara is relatively a slow city compared to other metros in India and has its share of challenges in public transportation. Having prior experience in the cycling space, I had set out three focus areas to work on as a Bicycle Mayor. The foremost task was to create more awareness – talk more about cycling and reach out to people. And to execute this plan, I started attending forums and workshops where I delivered talks on sustainable transportation and made extensive use of traditional and digital media. As a cyclist, I acknowledge that low cycling trips and infrastructure are something which cannot be changed instantly, so we targeted to increase the count of cyclist’s and bring more people onto bicycles. Other focus areas were to include corporate’s, schools and colleges, connect with millennial’s and make our efforts more inclusive.
In two years of my tenure, I have managed to form a wonderful team and covered a lot of ground in terms of initiatives and would like to highlight the major ones with its impact –
We launched a pilot project called ‘Tring – Try Cycling’ in a company where I work. The response was overwhelming – from Trainee to VP level about 10% of total company employees cycled to work. And this led to around 1% of them permanently getting shifted to cycling.
We did a ‘Gift a Cycle’ campaign in 2017 where old cycles were collected, refurbished and passed onto girls from underprivileged background. Seeing the success of this program, it was repeated in 2018 and this time the cycles were given to housemaids as their job required to visit multiple houses and with an independent travel, they were able to save more time, improve efficiency and spend more time with their own families.
Our ‘Cycle2Work’ ambassadors are promoting commute through the city. We frequently collaborate with the locals for weekend group rides, events and heritage tours for beginners and for those who can’t take up commuting on a working day.
We celebrated ‘World Car Free day’ on 22nd September last year and received and overwhelming response. The Municipal commissioner himself was present for this event and interacted with the local community. We used this occasion and installed the first cycle parking facility outside the main central garden of the city. It’s an artistic design which conveys ‘Four to Five cycles can be parked in place of one car.’ We wanted to alert the authorities that there is a need more of such parking facilities and this was a good beginning.
‘Design Your Cycling City’ contest was another community led initiative where people gave their ideas on how their cycling city should be and in the same month we launched ‘Cycling Cities’ mobile app in four cities – Baroda, Guwahati, Bangalore and Valsad.
‘Cycling Cities’ App is a platform where people sign up and start to ride where every kilometer gets converted in cycling city coins (cc). Every coin collected has a value related to carbon credit calculation based on international practices. Each time you avoid a two-wheeler or a four-wheeler and use a cycle, you earn coins as credit which can be redeemed with local cycle shops, cafes, grocery stores, online shops etc. I believe, technology is influencing and empowering. The mobile app has given a new dimension to the cyclist in attracting them and more importantly in sustenance. More often we seen people take up cycling and after a few months they switch off, but with the app, we have managed to keep them engaged as a long term approach.
This kind of app using behavioral economics to bring the cycling culture back is first of it’s kind in India and has received good response since its launch in September 2018. We recorded more than 3.8 lakh kilometers with an average of 60,000 kilometers a month from across India. As a cycling community, we are a passionate team working hard to scale this technology further to the next level for the benefit of millions of cyclists in the country and leave a positive impact on the environment.
We believe, cycling is also about behavioral shift which depends on how we project cycling either as ‘Commute’ or ‘Sports’. When people perceive it as a Sport they end up pursuing it with limited activity for fitness or merely an occasional, leisure, or fun thing. But when it is communicated as a serious Commute mode than more people respond and this has been my personal experience. In future we want to bring more fun and technology into cycling and get more people riding as a daily lifestyle. Basically the whole idea is to get more people on the platform and make them part of this journey in increasing ridership where 1/3rd of all trips are done by bicycle which will make our cities more sustainable, livable and human friendly.
Ways to Connect with Nikita Lalwani:
Facebook: Nikita Lalwani
Instagram: @Cycling Cities
Linked-In: Nikita Lalwani
Download the App: Cycling Cities
About the Author: Nikita Lalwani is the Bicycle Mayor of Vadodara, India. She is commuting to work from past five years using a bicycle and she doesn’t own any vehicle. She has a great team of people most of whom use a cycle for everyday commutes.