Bicycles and rickshaws in India: Some say Kolkata should back-pedal on its bicycle ban

Bicycles and rickshaws in India: Some say Kolkata should back-pedal on its bicycle ban

Oct 5th 2013 |From the print edition

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TRAVEL within any Indian city is usually crowded and slow. But Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), capital of West Bengal, has certain advantages. Its underground rail network, which was the first to open in India in 1984, is being extended. Uniquely in the country, electric trams clatter along its streets. Public transport may look dilapidated but it functions reasonably well: urban ferries, suburban trains, smoky buses and motorised rickshaws shunt around the city’s 14m residents.Driving, however, often means sitting for hours in traffic jams. Part of the problem is that only 6% of the densely populated city is devoted to roads, and many are in poor shape. Adding to the snarl-ups, drivers have to navigate among pedestrians, human-propelled vegetable carts, cyclists, cows and roughly 8,000 hand-pulled rickshaws.

To speed the flow, five years ago the city police tried to separate engine-propelled travellers from the rest, banning “non-motorised vehicles” from 38 bigger roads during daylight. This year, faced with worsening congestion, the ban has been substantially extended: to 174 roads, covering much of the city centre. That has provoked fury among the poor and among environmentalists.

The ban appears unjust. Travel is made harder for the poorest residents—who can be fined 100 rupees ($1.60) for pedalling on the wrong roads—for the sake of speedier journeys for the wealthy. Anumita Roy Chowdhury, a Bengali public-transport analyst, notes that it does nothing to ease the dreadful levels of pollution. Pedal-powered trips account for 11% of urban journeys, slightly more than trips by car, according to a 2008 survey.

Elsewhere in India lip service at least is paid to cycling for its supposedly healthy and green attributes—even though few who can afford to do otherwise choose to get sweaty in the saddle. One or two cycle lanes have sprouted in Chennai and Delhi. Hyderabad is building cycle parks alongside its new metro system. Posters in the national capital urge people to pedal for shorter journeys; and a few bicycles can be hired from a roadside shed in Delhi.

Officials in Kolkata insist that they have cyclists’ interests in mind. They want to protect them against accidents on big roads, and they even claim the ban has an anti-terrorist purpose, noting that bicycle bombs were used, for example, in an attack in Hyderabad in February. But critics such as Ms Roy Chowdhury are unconvinced. She says efforts to speed up motorised traffic will serve merely to lure more cars to the roads. It would be far better if Kolkata renovated its decent public transport infrastructure, as in Delhi, and built more paths for cyclists. “We are not even nurturing what we have inherited”, she says.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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