The company's newly launched cycle-sharing brand called 'Pedl' will compete with Alibaba backed Ofo that plans to enter India in 2018.
Giving bikes and scooters a miss, Bangalore-based self-drive car rental startup Zoomcar on Wednesday launched Pedl, a tech-enabled bicycle-sharing service.
After months of testing the model, Zoomcar has rolled out India's first app-based cycle renting platform starting with 500 bicycles across three cities – Bangalore, Chennai, and Kolkata – notwithstanding infrastructure issues on roads in these cities.
Reportedly, Alibaba backed Chinese bicycle renting startup Ofo which has raised about USD 1.3 billion is also planning to venture into India market as soon as in the first half of 2018.
However Bangalore-based Zoomcar is likely to enjoy a first movers’ advantage. With Pedl, Zoomcar aims to provide individuals with an environment-friendly cycle-sharing service for short trips around the city. It will primarily serve local use cases such as grocery shopping, running errands, and commuting to the last-mile.
“After car rentals caught on in India, we were looking for alternate vehicles because we realized that the IT backhaul we set up for cars could be replicated for other mobility options. In India travelling the short (last-mile) distances is probably the hardest. A bicycle is perfect for it,” Zoomcar co-founder and CEO, Greg Moran told Moneycontrol.
“It is going to be quite transformational across cities,” he added.
The key, Moran says, is to make it accessible.
To that end, Zoomcar has called upon restaurants, malls, other public spaces, and even individual house owners to come aboard as hosts to park the Pedl cycles.
The company is targeting to have at least 10,000 cycles on the road by the end of this year.
“That makes the distribution of cycles extremely hyperlocal and easily accessible. Just walk to your neighbour’s house and pick up the cycle, for instance. Plus the cost is pretty much in scope (affordable) for everyone at Rs 10 for half an hour (Rs 20 per hour),” Moran said.
'A Pedl bike at every 100 metres'
The startup aims to make a Pedl bicycle available every 50 to 100 meters in Indian cities.
Moran is hopeful to create a deeper impact of bicycle rentals in India than that seen in China. In western markets such as the US, companies have offered a model where users can drop a bike anywhere and it gets locked. The bike can be unlocked via a QR code. In India, Pedl is planning to have drop points where bikes can be parked.
“We look at India independent of China. If you look at our model it is different from what is done there. In China, the bicycles are abandoned. There is no thought process on making a user’s cycling experience consistent. We wanted to take a civic-minded approach, especially because India has infrastructural issues,” he says.
Zoomcar has created leveraged its tech backhaul to bring the same kind of pick-up and delivery experience to cycles, as with cars. The bicycles are fitted with IoT sensors, like Cadabra in the cars, to arrest issues in real-time.
According to Moran, the company has been able to reduce accidents by 35 percent compared to last quarter, with the help of Cadabra.
But are Indian roads ready for cycle rentals?
If we just take a look at our road infrastructure the answer would probably be no.
Moran, however, feels that it is more of a ‘chicken and egg kind of situation’ – “China didn’t have many cycle lanes when they started cycle rentals. As the service grew infrastructure was also built. It will happen here too. We got to take the leap. A business model has to come from the private sector. The government then works to create an ecosystem, like it is doing for e-cars,” he says.
At present, the company is actively talking to various governmental bodies to craft policies and design urban infrastructure that will help ensure responsible propagation of dockless cycle sharing across the country.
Zoomcar, however, is unlikely to venture into bike and scooter rentals anytime soon, because of regulatory hurdles that restrict the use of two-wheelers as commercial vehicles.
The company, according to Moran, had evaluated the option and had also put it in a testing mode.
Big companies with deep pockets such as Uber and Ola also had to shut down bike taxi operations in certain markets due to the tug-of-war with authorities about using two-wheelers without the yellow number plate reserved for commercial vehicles.
Several other bike taxi startups such as Zingo, TuWheelz, and Rideji had to shut shop due to lack of funding.
However, a number of success stories exist in the bike rentals space, such as Rapido, Vogo, and Wheelstreet with multiple city operations besides OlaBike and UberMoto in cities such as Gurgaon, Faridabad, Noida and others.
“For now we will stick to the bicycle market. There are regulatory issues on the bike and scooter side. Also, India already has a sizable two-wheeler ownership,” Moran explained.
Banking upon e-vehicles rentals
Zoomcar is rather planning something much more significant in the e-vehicle space.
The company has extended its existing partnership with Mahindra & Mahindra to offer plug-in electric vehicles for self-drive.
This will be an extension of Zoomcar’s efforts in its early days to influence the use of electric cars when in 2013 it introduced Mahindra’s Reva E2O to its fleet.
“We are working with Mahindra & Mahindra again on a much larger scale on e-vehicles. We wouldn’t wait for the public infra to be set up to launch the initiative. It’s not going to be properly developed anyways before 4-5 years in India,” Moran says.
How does Zoomcar plan to work around the lack of infrastructure for charging e-vehicles? “It will take time for related infra to be fully operational. But the process of building it has started already,” Moran says.
The government is one of the biggest stakeholders in this regard. To fulfil its vision of implementing 100% electric vehicles by 2020, the government is planning to float bulk supply tenders for electric three-wheelers and electric-rickshaws, which will be followed by contracts for electric buses.
Several private companies also, such as Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata Motors, are also working to create charging infrastructure. Hero MotorCorp-backed Ather Energy has built a proprietary electric scooter, is also setting up charging infrastructure across the country. Bangalore currently has about 25-30 fast chargers.
Even if these don’t exist, electric vehicles will still be serviceable, Moran feels.
“There is a misconception that having charging stations at petrol pumps and other public spaces is imperative to make e-vehicles popular. That’s not true at all. It can be set up at home. About 95 percent of charging of e-vehicles around the world takes place within homes,” he firstname.lastname@example.org