Mention cycling to work to friends and colleagues in Mumbai and the response is usually one of the following:
“The drivers are crazy”
“There’s too much traffic”
“The roads aren’t good”
“It’s too hot”
However, if you listen to some of the hundreds of people who are already doing it (you can see video clips of Mumbai bicycle commuters talking about their experiences here and here) cycling to work in Mumbai sounds fun.
Certainly, bicycle commuting has its challenges — the road surfaces can be uneven, there’s intense heat and humidity and now, there’s lots of rain. So, cycling in Mumbai requires vigilance and some extra preparation (like a change of clothes). Despite all this, most people agree that cycling to work makes you happy. No one says that about sitting in traffic while trapped in a car.
Recognizing the potential for change in Mumbaikars’ commuting habits, Firoza Suresh and her colleagues at The Smart Commute – Cycle 2 Work recently launched an innovative new project called “Cycle 2 Work Fridays.” The target audience for this project are those who would like to try cycling to work but don’t know how to start. The Smart Commute believes that with a little extra help, these “fence-sitters” will give cycle commuting a try. Ultimately, The Smart Commute believes that the sight of these new people on the road will debunk the myth that cycling in Mumbai is impossible.
“Cycle 2 Work Fridays” guides people into the world of bicycle commuting by ensuring their first rides to work do not have to be alone. Every last Friday of the month, the Smart Commute coordinates group rides from fixed start and end points connecting residential neighborhoods with big commercial hubs.
With the help of a free app developed by Chetan Temkar at Smart Shehar (read more about that here: India’s first bicycle commuting app), potential bicycle commuters can see who is headed in the same direction and join them on their way to the office. For instance, if someone wants to ride from Juhu to BKC, they can use the app much like they would use uber or other ride share apps— to see what group of riders are nearby and “jump in” when they pass nearby.
Firoza Suresh, founder of the Smart Commute, is hopeful this will lead to a revolution in peoples’ attitudes to bicycle commuting in Mumbai. The numbers seem to support her. At the kick-off event on June 6, over a thousand cyclists converged at the Bandra-Kurla Complex. This was the largest gathering of cyclists that the city had ever seen.
The enthusiasm was infectious, says Firoza. “Even the rain did not hamper our spirits. The huge turnout shows there is a rippling effect. And now, when we talk with the traffic police and municipality about our plans to promote cycling in the city, they are very enthusiastic.”
Firoza was especially pleased by the presence of the BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta, who pledged government support for cycling in Mumbai. Soon after the event, the BMC announced a new free bicycle parking facility in south Mumbai — a small step, but a sign of the growing clout of cycling advocates in Mumbai.