Ten years ago, when MS Athirup from Thiruvananthapuram was working for an engineering consultancy, his team was scattered across the city, and he decided to use a bicycle to commute. The idea caught on, and soon, the other team members also started using bicycles.
Three years later, Athirup quit his job to establish Athi’s Bicycle Club (ABC) with his personal savings and monetary help from his well-wishers. ABC promotes cycling by lending them to people for free. While he started out alone, today his team comprises ten core members and mechanics who work on a part-time basis.
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Speaking to The Better India, the 40-year-old says, “Cycling is one of my fondest childhood memories, and when I saw its multiple benefits as an adult, I decided to bring it back. If people switch to bicycle to commute short distances, vehicular emissions can be curbed. Through the bicycle club, I want to encourage a sustainable mode of transportation by establishing a cross-city bicycling network in urban areas.”
The business model is based on sponsorships and branding. All the cycles under ABC are purchased by different corporations like Wipro Allianz, HLL Lifecare Limited and Fragomen who put their logo on the cycle.
The service is free of cost as Athirup wants to encourage as many people as possible.
“I did not start the initiative to make profits. We manage our finances from our sponsors so that customers can have a good experience. Everyone irrespective of their financial background can avail the service.”
With 50 cycles, Athirup kickstarted the service at Thiruvananthapuram’s Technopark, and today the club has expanded to two other cities, Chennai and Kochi.
How Does It Work?
- Anyone who wants to borrow a cycle has to send their station code via SMS to a number mentioned on the website. The user will also have to submit certain details like name, email, and so on for a verification process.
- A number will be sent on the message to the user to unlock the cycle. Along with that, the user will be given terms and conditions, how to use the cycle, and how to drop it securely.
- The club has established multiple racks across the three cities from where the user can take a bike. Every station has a specific code, and as the racks are portable, the parking spots of the cycles keep changing every once in a while, thus covering the entire city.
- The usage is flexible as the user can take a bicycle from any rack and drop it back at any other rack in the city.
- The membership is free, and no security deposit is required. The only condition is that a user has to return the cycle within 24 hours.
- Each member gets 100 hours of usage every month. Since the inception of the club, 8,000 people have used the service more than once, and in total, the cycles have been used more than 50,000 times.
“I work on film sets and visiting different sets is my daily routine. Six months ago, I came across Athi’s bicycle club. Since then I have been using a cycle to cover distances as far as 20 kilometres. It is convenient and the best part is that it keeps me fit,” says 38-year-old Karthik.
Although the organisation keeps a tab on each of its cycles, there have been some unpleasant experiences.
“We have had cases where people have stolen the cycle. In other instances, people say they have returned the cycle, but continue to use it. But these drawbacks are very negligible to the kind of impact our club has had till now,” says Athirup.
He further adds, “The project is a win-win project for sponsors who get branding, people who get to ride cycles and most importantly the environment benefits.”
The client base of the club is mostly youngsters, and Athirup couldn’t have been happier about it. With the current generation ditching vehicles that emit pollution for cycles, it is indeed an initiative that can bring about a long term environmental impact.
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(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)