Could Yulu Be the Answer to India’s Congested Cities?

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In a 2019 study, India was listed as the country with some of the worst traffic congestion in the world – in fact, four of its cities ranked among the top ten most congested. This meant residents living in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune and New Delhi were spending anywhere between 190 hours and 243 hours more in traffic a year than the rest of us.

That is, as the study drily reminded readers, a lot of time that could be spent watching Game of Thrones.

Time aside, congestion also costs cities up to USD $22 billion annually. While steps have been made in the public and private sector to improve the situation, progress has been slow.

Enter Yulu Bikes, India’s visionary ride-sharing startup. Launched by Amit Gupta and R K Misra, Naveen Dachuri, and Hemant Gupta, Yulu’s vision is to reduce traffic congestion by providing a scalable, affordable, efficient and clean solution for short distance commuting.

Yulu provides a network of over 10,000 shared vehicles, including bicycles and lightweight electric scooters, in Bengaluru, Pune, Mumbai and New Delhi.

Solutions for Progress

“Everything is broken, everything is an opportunity,” said Amit on his motivation to start Yulu. “But what made traffic and pollution the number one choice for me? Because it is impacting me as an individual. So, irrespective of your class, creed, financial status, colour, religion, you have to deal with these two problems.”

If Amit is the passion driving Yulu, RK is the key strategist. A public figure known for his expertise in the nation’s urban planning policy, RK added, “India is a country which is very high on talent but very poor infrastructure. Talent and infrastructure can match so the country can go forward, but only if the infrastructure keeps pace or goes ahead of talent.”

Open Co-creation of Solutions

Reducing urban traffic congestion is a complex challenge which requires multiple industries and legislation to cooperate, and the Yulu team played a major part in catalysing the collaborations.

They began with the issue of first and last-mile connectivity - helping consumers reach the closest train or bus station, and from these stations, travelling to their workplaces, schools or other destinations.

While the country has begun expanding its public transport networks, RK believes it will be a few years before the stations can be accessible to everyone i.e. within one kilometre from homes. That was a gap that Yulu had to close – and this mindset was what RK believed set Yulu apart.

To solve the issue of first and last-mile connectivity in India, Yulu adopted a 3-C approach – corporations, cities and citizens.

To start, they needed parking areas where consumers could easily access Yulu’s vehicles. The team approached real estate developers and received permission to use spaces in tech parks, visitor car parks and commercial buildings. These were converted to “Yulu Zones”, parking and operational hubs for the bikes and other vehicles offered by the company.

The same companies also supported Yulu by having their employees use its bikes and scooters for the commute, a solution which reduced the use of private vehicles on the roads. These employees, in turn, spread the word to their residential complexes, which then offered more spaces for Yulu’s vehicles.

We are solving problems in the context of our country’s growth and of urban renewal, and the government has understood that cities are economic growth engines. If the cities don’t fire, the country won’t go.

— RK Misra, Co-Founder and President of Eco-system Partnerships, Yulu Bikes

As the spaces grew, the government approached Yulu, and the company requested concessions for spaces close to train and bus stations, as well as dedicated Yulu vehicle corridors.

In seven months, Yulu had successfully built a network of such zones across Bangalore. “Suddenly, the problem became the solution where we said, okay, each one of us basically come together and build this ecosystem together,” said Amit.

Yulu was also instrumental in the creation of India’s policies for micro-mobility. The lack of regulation concerned them, and they knew from the examples seen in Singapore, Paris and San Francisco that legislations were needed to protect companies like theirs from being forced out.

We led this whole co-creation of policy documents, which was future-ready…So we solve for infrastructure with the 3C approach. We solve for the policy by bringing people together.

— Amit Gupta, Co-founder and CEO, Yulu Bikes

Addressing Unique Pain Points

Besides adopting a flexible, innovative approach to solving congestion, Yulu Bikes also worked to address issues unique to the Indian market.

“Short distance mobility, which is typically five to seven kilometers, accounts for two-thirds of the trips in any big city. And it is the one that will congest your downtowns, the one where people move around, and if you can solve that problem, this will in general decongest your city,” Amit noted. This meant Yulu needed smaller, eco-friendly vehicles as an alternative to private cars.

While existing scooter options are already in circulation elsewhere in the world, Yulu Bikes came up against two issues: they had to overcome local resistance to vehicles that required the rider to stand upright, and find a durable, environmentally-conscious scooter to make operational costs sustainable.

It was then Yulu came up with the Miracle, a custom-designed lightweight electronic vehicle which could last up to three years.

The high rate of vehicle loss was another challenge. When Yulu initially allowed consumers to drop off their bikes anywhere, the team had to spend hours locating bikes across the city. Amit estimated that 90% of their vehicles were lost to theft and vandalism in the first six months of the dropoff model.

To counter these, Yulu adopted designated dropoff hubs and a team of bike marshals, something that streamlined the consumer experience for pickup and dropoff. This also led to such hubs being located within residential areas.

Unexpectedly, this also led to greater community ownership of the Yulu vehicles, with vehicle loss dropping to single digits. Security guards in these residential complexes and even local shopkeepers were keeping tabs on the hubs and reporting disorderly users to the company’s bike marshals.

Mobility is a very local phenomenon. Not only that, you cannot take one country template to other countries...the cultural context is different, infrastructure is different, and a set of relationships you need to know. We understood that abstraction very well.

— Amit Gupta, Co-founder and CEO, Yulu Bikes

“The unique approach of 3C probably is a process innovation,” Amit stated. “No company in the world has cracked something of this nature. And we are very proud, and it happened because we went ahead with an open approach that okay, let’s fix this city with that intent.”

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