The Pandemic resulted in short-term benefits to the environment with clean air and blue skies. Pedaling with a force to latch onto this golden opportunity are the advocacy groups and non-profit organizations, which are leaving no stone unturned to convert the miniscule gains into long term advantages.

On 2nd December 2020 to mark the ‘National Pollution Control Day’ in India, a webinar highlighting the social, environmental and economic impacts of cycling was hosted by the Netherlands Business Support Offices of the Dutch Embassy in India in collaboration with BYCS India, with representatives from Hero Motor Company, Clean Air Asia, and Smart City Surat.

During the webinar, a discussion took place covering the importance of tackling air pollution, the uptake of cycling during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the Dutch and Indian governments can collaborate and learn from each other to build resiliency through cycling.

Speaking at the ‘Cycling for Health & Wealth’ webinar His Excellency, Marten van den Berg, Ambassador of the Netherlands in India said “Cycling is in our DNA and I think its a wonderful part of our DNA. It is a privilege to use a bike in our daily lives. Even our Prime Minister bikes to work. The most famous pictures of world leaders visiting the Netherlands are always on a bike and its always nice to see them biking around in the Netherlands.”

His Excellency Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Photo source: internet.

The Netherlands is the number one bicycling nation in the world. The city of Amsterdam and Utrecht features in the list of top-most bike friendly cities on the planet (Copenhagenize index). 17 million Dutch nationals collectively own 23 million bicycles, with a ratio of 1.3 bikes per inhabitant, who have the privilege to ride over a vast network of dedicated cycling infrastructure.

Drawing inspiration from His Excellency, Dr. Bhairavi Joshi, CEO BYCS India commented “The pollution control day has played an important role in my career. Two years back I started with a cycling curriculum in a school in a small town called Valsad in Gujarat. From there, my journey towards cycling picked up. When his Excellency shared about having cycling in his DNA, this is what we have to initiate in our children and the future generations. Cycling has to be in the DNA of everyone.”

Sadly, amongst the world’s ten most polluted cities, India has a representation of six cities. Research suggests Air Pollution kills 1.25 million people in India every year. These figures are enough to raise a panic alarm.

Increase in bicycling can lower greenhouse gas emissions and clean air. TERI Report on ’Benefits of Cycling’ concludes ‘In India, if 50% of work trips undertaken by cars and two-wheelers are substituted by bicycles, it can reduce its carbon emission by 1 million tons annually’.

Ms. Prarthana Borah, India Director, Clean Air Asia in her talk emphasized on enhancing the use of Non-Motorized Transport (NMT). “NMT is one of the best air pollution mitigation measures and that requires a little structural change, and is economically more viable because it is about shifting behavior. It is considered world over that whenever you talk about air pollution solution, NMT can become a large contributor to air pollution solution” she said.

Half of India uses NMT in rural and small towns which can be looked as an entry point to urban cities.

“The trick is in knowing how we can move the idea of cycling from leisure and sport to mobility vehicle in terms of utility” she added.

Pankaj Munjal, Chairman & MD, Hero Motor Company highlighted the fact that “80% of cars trips made in India are of 7 km or less, so e-bikes are the way-forward with which we can go further, and bring a social change”.

Last year, around 420,000 electric bikes were sold in the Netherlands alone (KiM – Dutch government mobility institute). Especially after the pandemic, the adoption of e-bikes is estimated to grow further in Europe. According to the latest forecast by industry experts in Europe, e-bikes sales are predicted to advance from 3.7 million bikes sold in 2019 to 17 million units per year by 2030.

In India too, manufacturers are focusing on building the e-bike segment with plenty of new models slated to launch in the next couple of years.

E-bikes help in getting around faster with fewer efforts compared to its human powered counterpart. It is a low-cost, cool and safe ‘social distancing’ personal transport which is encouraging citizens to lead an active lifestyle.

Hero Lectro offers a wide range of e-cycles for men and women. Photo credit: Siddharth Vohra, Kohinoor Cycle Shop, Mumbai.

BYCS India signs an MOU with Surat Smart City to accelerate active travel.

The MakeWay 30 Day MOU signed between BYCS India, which is a division of an Amsterdam-based NGO most famously known for its Bicycle Mayor Network, and the city of Surat was also introduced in the webinar.

The two parties have committed to collaborate with each other to develop a culture of cycling in Surat and inspire new citizens to take up the bicycle for daily trips.

They will combine temporary infrastructure activation with civil and local business engagement, allowing stakeholders to experience, with their very own senses, all that a cycling city has to offer and creating momentum for continued expansion of pilot areas.

Mr. Banchhanidhi Pani, IAS, Municipal Commissioner of Surat, expressing his heartfelt gratitude on this development said “Surat has taken this COVID-19 opportunity of signing an MOU with BYCS India and committed to provide the best cycling infrastructure. Everything that is needed will be done to support cycling. We are really very happy to be a part of this momentous occasion.”

The webinar was hosted by Mr. Amlan Bora, Trade and Investment Commissioner, Netherlands Business Support Office, India.

Watch the video recording: Cycling for Health & Wealth

Cover image: H.E. Marten van den Berg

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Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai

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