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Can Bike Sharing Survive in India?

A new bike-share program launches in Bhopal, but Indian cyclists still face huge obstacles.  
Young women riding public bikes on a designated bike lane in Bhopal.
Young women riding public bikes on a designated bike lane in Bhopal.Bhopal Smart City Development Corporation Limited

A couple of years ago, starting a public bike-share system seemed a tall order for Bhopal, a city of around 1.7 million in Central India. In 2015, the proposal was met with ample skepticism from politicians, residents, and nonprofits. “In a city where sewerage and supply of drinking water are the major issues, [the Bhopal Municipal Corporation] and the government is busy copying foreign countries,”one politician quipped in The Hindustan Times.

This June, the same city kicked off India’s first fully-automated, fully integrated public bike-share system—and it’s off to a pretty good start. Within 15 days of its inauguration, around 10,000 people signed up—entirely on mobile. Over half were women. On weekends, especially, the usage has been high, particularly among youth and families. And already, requests are coming in to have more bike share docks in neighborhoods that don’t currently have them.