Ceiling-to-floor whiteboards cover the walls of the second floor sun-lit office. One date, in a bold red circle, is unmissable. “We will be launching our EV [electric vehicle] operations by 15 April. 1,000 electric scooters across Bengaluru,” says Vivekananda Hallekere, co-founder at India’s largest two-wheeler ride-sharing company, Bounce, whose office this is.

Hallekere talks in clipped sentences, afraid to give too much away. He also seems to be in a hurry. A hurry to finish the interview. Hurry to scale and grow Bounce. Hurry to the finish line.

While Bounce makes the switch to e-scooters, its rival Yulu, another shared, eco-friendly micro-mobility offering, is giving bicycle-sharing a makeover.

Amit Gupta, co-founder of Yulu, is only too happy to show off their latest Miracle bike. “It’s not a scooter, it’s an upgrade on our bicycle,” he says. The Miracle looks a lot like a regular bike, with a small, 40 kg steel-and-wire frame, a battery pack and an IoT (Internet of Things) device mounted on it.

Urban mobility startups have been in a race to crack shared transportation in India for about two years now. And it’s no easy feat; there are numerous hurdles along the way. For instance, just last week, cab aggregator Ola’s operations in Bengaluru were brought to a complete halt by the Karnataka transport department, for allegedly violating licensing rules for bike taxis.

Bounce, Yulu and other startups like Vogo, Rapido and PEDL (Zoomcar’s cycle-sharing arm), have all tried to bridge India’s biggest gap in commute—last-mile connectivity—through their options for micro-mobility. These startups grew overnight, propelled by rising internet penetration and demand for safe, quick and cheap mobility options. But that wasn’t enough to sustain them, especially not in India. (Read why in our previous story on bike-sharing.)

Even though these companies were clocking a decent number of rides, operationally, they were being sucked dry because of theft, vandalism and widespread loss. “There are two things you have to ace to play in the micro-mobility sector in India. One is to get a rugged form factor, and the other is sophisticated IoT technology. Without these two, it’s impossible to survive. Ofo’s growth in India was cut short because their tech wasn’t advanced enough,” says Greg Moran, co-founder of car-rental startup Zoomcar and PEDL. Even Zoomcar had to back-pedal on its bike-sharing platform, mostly, as Moran claims, the bikes weren’t all that durable.

Ofo, a Beijing-based bicycle-sharing company, and PEDL may have left the field, but India’s shared mobility space is at a point of inflection. According to a report by investment bank Morgan Stanley, the sector is forecast to grow at an annualised rate of 18% till 2030, and 50% of total miles driven in India will be shared ones by 2040.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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