Startups are about passionate pursuits. Yet, not all passions are around making dollops of money – in fact many may never do that but yet seek to make a difference.
NammaCycle (“Our Cycle”, in Kannada) – a public bicycle sharing programme in Bangalore – surely fits that category. Its trying to integrate cycling into the public transport infrastructure thread in Bangalore, and from early signs, succeeding in pockets, at least.
Many, including those in public spaces, the government and just plain altruistic folks have come together and enabled this program. But one guy’s passion in making sure NammaCycle happened – after years of effort – shines through. We caught up with Murali H.R. – a cyclist himself – to know more about this and try and understand another of those drives that makes this crazy world actually work. Murali is a Creative Consultant. He now trains corporate sector folks in Business Process Management and Web Technologies. He loves travelling on cycle and playing carnatic flute. He also volunteers with the Ride A Cycle Foundation.
Namma Cycle is a pretty unique and socially relevant effort and you’ve been driving for a long time. How did this get started?
Murali : I just got pulled into the craze of cycling after riding in the France. I felt deeply that we need to do seriously to bring back the cycle culture as I experienced Moksha in France while i cycled 70 Kms in just 5 hours. This is impossible in india due to bad roads! Once I got back, I met a couple of others and we all felt that we needed to engage with doing research on cycles and cycling, and making them popular.
What success has this programme seen thus far?
Murali : Namma Cycle has 3 bike stations right now, a 100+ regular users, and has completed over 4000 trips covering 6000! In the process, it prevented a tonne of CO2 emissions because 300 liters of petrol were not used, saving about 25,000 rupees. Its seen a usage growth over 5x over the first 6 months of its launch, and is viable with the sponsorships and since we make street vendors part of the network. In itself, bike sharing itself is not financially viable since the aim is to promote a new, clean mode of transport and after the monthly subscription, the first half hour for every trip is not charged, and its a nominal charge – 5/- to 10/- per hour after that.
Obviously, a slow process. What have the challenges been? How’s technology helping?
Murali : Technology is certainly the backbone! We have taken the route of an Android app to take care of logistics, finance and the rental operations. The app itself – “ECBike” – is free and open source. You can check the availability of cycles live at each of the bike stations at http://app.nammacycle.in/registermember/checkcycleavailabilityrealtime. Gubbi Labs implemented the apps for us, and we’ve have a lot of support from CISTUP, IISC for running the system.
Why are you doing this? Whats the bigger picture?
Murali : To make cycling a mode of public transport in all Tier 2 – Tier 3 cities.
[ Team NextBigWhat : Try as we might, the answer did not move to a more personal level at all – the motivation does seem to be the reward in itself!]
What has the experience been like? Learnings?
Murali : This is a big project with many stakeholders. Getting an idea like this implemented on the ground is extremely difficult – unlike software systems here it is entirely operations management – you need to finalize the operations and the process of collecting revenue, collecting the cycle, managing the stock etc.
Managing the team is bit difficult as they all come from a very different background (all school drop outs ) and do not necessarily have great work discipline. For example today the mechanic came in the morning and suddenly left because the operations manager scolded him.
Because it is a low paid job smart people do not come to work with us .Yet we have managed to build a team and keep them motivated to do the job. We got a nice T shirt designed and gave all of them a new T shirt!
Advice/tips to folks looking to “do something more meaningful”
[Team NextBigWhat : Murali, being a perfect example of a “Doer”, proffered no gyaan in this direction! 🙂 But we think the whole effort – that’s taken a good couple of years of hard work and battling cynicism, interfacing with a dozen different groups and agencies, exploring and getting funding options sorted out and finally signing on a team to execute all of this – this should provide enough clues given the non-profit nature and high social impact of the project. Its success was, and still is not a given, and needs as much perseverance as any startup would. Hats off, Murali and the whole NammaCycle team!]