Monday, October 28, 2013

Back to the Green Commute (or How to Potentially Save Around $ 200 Million in Import Bill Annually)

Its the time of the year when I help my bicycle work off the rust it has gathered during the summer & monsoon months. I began this exercise last year & have resumed it for this year too.

For most of the rest of the year, the only exercise I claim to do during the day is waking up! But during the months when temperature drops to bearable levels (mid-Oct to mid-Feb), cycling is one physical activity that I can sustain. I have tried the morning/evening walks & jogs, but I am too lazy to carry it beyond a few days. Not cycling, though. It helps that I take it to work (some 12 kms twice a day), so that I am forced to pedal twice a day. And this really works!!
Apart from the health benefits (see adjoining figure, also trending on Facebook) associated with cycling, that have been well documented, there are other benefits (tangible & intangible) too that you can consider as the catalysts to take up this clean, green & healthy habit:
  • You get a high when you sweat during the coldest Dec/Jan mornings, while all around are you are draped in their woolens.
  • Even after putting in full day's worth at the office, you don't feel tired & drained when you get back after the long ride home. You realize this when you not only finish reading the day's newspaper and also get to see some late night television, but are out of bed the next morning feeling totally refreshed!
  • When other users do not compete with you to occupy road space & when they (and you too) are not bothered about who gets ahead & stays ahead, it makes the commute very pleasing.
  • Bothered by a Traffic Jam? Simply pick up your bike & coolly move ahead leaving behind the envious 2- & 4-wheelers!
  • You get enough time to see things around you without worrying about crashing into someone or running over something, thus getting a real-time update about the changes taking place in the cityscape.
  • The satisfaction of not increasing the din in the already noisy streets is experienced exclusively by the cyclists.
  • You become the role model for your colleagues, friends & neighbours. If this is not exhilarating enough, consider the fact that most of them wish to emulate you but are unable to do so!
  • The perverse pleasure you get when you park your vehicle besides a super premium car inside hotel parking. During an offsite programme, I placed my bicycle besides an Audi SUV. End of the day, colleagues from other locations swarmed around my vehicle clearly ignoring the exorbitantly priced, fuel guzzler parked besides it. The owner would have definitely suffered from a severe attack of inferiority complex had he been around to witness it!!
  • My daughter picked up this dialogue from Chennai Express - "Don't underestimate the power of the common man". Unlike SRK, I feel this everyday when I am on my bicycle & my fellow occupants of the road give me enough space to move at my pace. Some are even gracious enough to wait for me to overtake a slow rick or a parked vehicle or cross a busy traffic intersection. (Wearing a helmet gives one additional privileges as a cyclist)
 As they say, every silver lining has a cloud attached. Here are some of the turn-off's that may prevent you from a healthy act:
  • Some portions of the roads are real bad & you have to seek a path through the lanes & by-lanes to have a smooth ride.
  • The roads are not cyclist-friendly. There need to be separate bicycle tracks or cyclist only stretches where other vehicles are not allowed. Unfortunately, most of the cyclists on the road do not carry enough political or economic weight for this to happen.
  • Some of the drivers are totally lacking in basic traffic courtesy & need to be educated on the do's & don'ts of driving. Perhaps, the RTO may wake up some day & do the needful.
  • The noise. Its only when one is out of the closed windows of the car that one realizes the amount sound pollution the vehicles create in addition to the air pollution.
  • Its difficult to turn right on a wide road when every driver is trying to reach the max point on his speedometer.
Now, if the silver in the lining is sufficiently bright, it will definitely illuminate the cloud so that one is no longer worried about it. So, here are some hard facts to help you take the plunge:
  • Save money. GAIL sells us CNG at the lowest price in Gujarat & I shall save at least Rs. 5000 this season. Someone driving a petrol or diesel car would have saved Rs. 9000 or Rs. 5800 respectively. You get back your investment in the bicycle in less than 2-3 months. Isn't this a great deal (especially during a depressed economy)? Mind you, these nos. are based on the current fuel costs, which are rising every fortnight, so the real nos. would be even rosier.
  • I would be reducing my carbon footprint & contributing in my own individual, howsoever small, capacity to a cleaner environment. Some back of the envelope calculations show me that I would be reducing around 240 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere this season! For someone driving a petrol or diesel car, this no. would be even higher - 350 tonnes & 300 tonnes.
  • Help save foreign exchange requirement of the country. I would be reducing the forex requirement on LNG by USD 70 this season. Corresponding figures for petrol or diesel users are USD 190 & USD 290. The amount looks small, but if multiplied by potential cyclists, Mr. Rajan would be able to sleep a little peacefully.
  • This is the clincher - The price we pay for fuels has a huge tax component (both state & central) built in. If we switch to cycling, this would mean reduction in government revenues. This would force them into a real economy drive to balance their budgets. This is our chance to get back at the political class. Why should only you be tight-fisted?

The  nos. above appear small, but when multiplied these can be substantial. Let me illustrate:

Considering that the urban population in India is around 400 million & 5% Indian households own a car, let's assume average urban family size to be 5. This means there are 4 million cars in urban India. Let's assume, these consist of 2.4 million petrol cars, 1.4 million diesel cars & 200,000 CNG cars.

If 20% of these car users (or those below 40 years & driving small cars) switch to cycling for 4 months in a year, we can collectively reduce CO2 emissions by around 260 million tons each year & save forex on crude imports by around 200 million dollars!!
Are you game?
My Hero No. 1
Note: The benefits quantified above are based on my activity level, i.e. 20 days of cycling in a month.

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