People switch to cycling as distancing is not possible in public transport
Kolkata: Bicycle sales in Kolkata have witnessed a boom during the pandemic with commuters searching for an alternative mode of transport.
Demand has increased three-fold and sales have soared by 80-100 per cent compared to pre-Covid times. Dealers are now selling 300 cycles per week.
Siddhartha Sharma of Decathlon, Kolkata, a premium sporting goods store, informed The Observer: “Demand has outgrown the supply of bicycles. People prefer cycles due to their affordability and safety keeping in mind the norms of social distancing which is difficult to maintain in public transport.”
Earlier, only the standard models were sold, but now the demand for fancy and hi-tech models has increased.
Ashok Kumar Gupta of the Firefox Cycle Shop said: “We are getting orders from teenagers who are now using bicycles to go to tuition classes or their friends’ houses; they always want sporty and advanced models.”
Some dealers are worried that this growth might not continue for long. An employee of Santi Cycle Mart in Bentinck Street said: “Though the demand is high now, we are concerned that sales might go down again as the Bengal government provides free cycles to schoolchildren from selected dealers around election time, which is soon.”
Reduced public transport across the city during the lockdown has encouraged more cyclists to come on the main roads, earlier strictly prohibited.
Santanjib Gupta of Bicycle Mayor, an Amsterdam-based organization that promotes cycling as an eco-friendly and sustainable mode of transport, said: “Kolkatans have a car-centric mindset that needs to change. Cycling can bring social change.”
Sellers indicate health benefits as another reason for higher sales. Fitness enthusiasts have adopted the habit of cycling to stay fit. Sporting cycles that cost Rs 5,000-7,000 are in huge demand.
Sanjana Ghosh, a student, shared: “Since gyms were closed during the lockdown, I bought a new bicycle to continue my workout. We can cover long distances without traffic.”
Cycling has positively impacted the environment in these few months, reducing carbon emissions. But with more vehicles coming back on the streets, environmentalists seem to be worried.
Samrat Sengupta, Programme Director, Centre for Science and Environment, said: “India is seeing a substantial rise in e-mobility, but our urban planning doesn’t support cycling.” Cycles can be considered as a mode of transport if a person does not travel more than 10 km. An increase in the distance to be travelled will force people to take a vehicular mode that is not sustainable.
Bicycles remained the most preferred option throughout the lockdown. Post-unlock, commuters are reluctant to go back to traditional modes of transport.
Pratap Singh, an employee of an IT company who cycles to work, said: “We have to be alert while cycling, but still I would want to continue at least thrice a week.” Earlier, he would wait long hours for a bus. Cycling to work is far more convenient.
Cycle-repair shops are getting more business due to an increase in sales. To avoid crowding, they have gone digital to book service slots.
The government accepts the benefits of cycling but is yet to make any long-term plan to include it in the daily life of people.