Pedaling towards a greener India

Akshima T Ghate, Megha Kumar and Seema Singh, TERI

Today, growing energy consumption and emissions from the transport sector have become a key concern in India; and cycling presents an excellent mitigation option to address these issues. At the same time, cycling generates significant health benefits and offers an affordable transport option to a large portion of the population who cannot afford any form of motorised transport.

Despite meeting the mobility needs of millions of Indians, cycling in India has not grown over the last decade, and the ownership level of bicycles in India remains low. Compared to 0.37 bicycles per capita in China, the ownership level was only 0.009 bicycles per capita in India in 2011.

The use of bicycles has declined in most of Indian cities, largely due to the way the cities have been planned, where transport infrastructure is designed to cater to the needs of motorised transport. A case in point is Delhi, where cycling has witnessed a decline of more than 30 per cent in the mode share in the past five decades, decreasing from 36 per cent in 1957 – the highest among all other modes – to four per cent in 2008. In comparison with Chinese cities, the mode share of bicycles ranges from 11 per cent to 47 per cent, and in Beijing the cycle share is as high as 32 per cent. Bicycle shares in Chinese cities are experiencing an upward trend, after witnessing a decline for a long period of time. The common perception of cycling as a poor man’s mode has also discouraged the use of cycles as a choice mode of transport in India.

For low income households, the price of bicycles remains a key deterrent. The price of the cheapest bicycle in rural India is about 15 per cent of the annual per capita rural income, compared to about 2.5 per cent in rural China. In addition, there is also a dearth of low cost finance options for the purchase of bicycles, although they are widely used to access employment and business opportunities.

Acknowledging the urgent need to address the decline of ownership and use of bicycles in India, TERI, in association with All India Cycle Manufacturers’ Association (AICMA), undertook an extensive research study on ‘Promoting Cycling in India’. The study examined the issues constraining the growth of cycling in India and also provided recommendations to address these restrictions.

The key recommendations suggested by TERI include promoting bicycle ownership among low income households by making bicycles affordable. The study recommended the removal of any kind of taxation on bicycles so as to make them affordable. Provision of easy financing options for purchase of bicycles through micro-finance corporations to encourage ownership of cycles by low income households, was also an important recommendation made by TERI.

The study found that, in order to promote cycling, it was important to address the challenges related to safety of the cyclists, lack of infrastructure to support cycling, and also work towards rebranding the bicycle as an environmentally friendly mode of transport. TERI recommended that, for promoting bicycling as a choice mode, it was crucial to develop bicycle infrastructure in cities, introduce bike-sharing schemes, and undertake awareness campaigns. It was not just important to provide the infrastructure, but also maintain the infrastructure, as ample examples exist in Indian cities where the developed infrastructure is encroached, or used for parking of vehicles, dumping garbage, or used by motorised two-wheelers. TERI also suggested that ‘provision of infrastructure for non-motorised transport’ should be made a mandatory component for states and local bodies to get central government funding for any kind of transport project.

It will be equally important to promote the health and environmental benefits of cycling to the public and create mass awareness through campaigns. Such campaigns can go a long way in addressing the negative perception about cycling and encouraging the use of cycles.


To access the study please visit this link:


Ms Akshima T. Ghate is a Fellow, and Ms Megha Kumar and Ms Seema Singh are Research Associates at the Centre for Research on Sustainable Urban Development and Transport Systems, Sustainable Habitat Division (TERI) New Delhi.