• Pedal for a change

Let’s join the Cycling Revolution

The love for cycling has really caught the fancy of many people across the world and these people do not necessarily belong to the young in age but it can be safely assumed that these people are young at heart too and want to stay young and healthy. Lately many people in Guwahati too have chosen cycling as their preferred way to get healthy. The reasons behind this trend are mainly to do with its benefits.

There are many benefits of cycling and these can be broadly divided into the direct and the indirect ones. Those affecting the individual with regard to their improved health, savings on fuel, travel time savings are classified as direct benefits. The indirect benefits affect the society at large and have to do with reduced carbon emissions, energy security and reduced inequality. A study was conducted by TERI (Benefits of Cycling in India: An Economic, Environmental and Social Assessment) and released in January 2019 which focuses on these benefits.

The report says that private motorized vehicles have seen the greatest growth in vehicles ownership, due to unprecedented population growth and urbanization, and this has resulted in a huge fuel bill for the nation. According to the study if 50% of short distance trips are made by cycles there would be savings on fuel expenditure to the extent of 27 billion rupees per year.

TERI used the WHO developed Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) and the Cost of Illness (CoI) approach to calculate the health benefits on account of increased physical activity. HEAT is designed to help conduct an economic assessment of the health benefits of walking or cycling by estimating the value of reduced mortality that results from specified amounts of walking or cycling. The CoI approach quantifies the direct and indirect costs associated with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, which are caused by a sedentary lifestyle. The report found out that if individuals shift to cycling and ride for approximately 3.5 kms for 120 days in a year the monetized benefits of increased physical activity translates to 0.9 to 1.3 percent of the nations GDP.

The study found out that a 50% increase in the number of kms commuted on a bicycle results in significant reduction of premature deaths due to air pollution. This corresponds to an annual savings of 241 billion rupees.

According to the study cycling to work can lead to total benefits of 1.8 trillion rupees per year. This amount is equivalent to 1.6% per India’s GDP. Of this total monetized benefits due to cycling, health account for 87%. Cycling also leads to benefits in terms of infrastructure savings, reduced congestion, road safety but these benefits were not valued due to unavailability of data.

In a separate and independent study, done by the writer based on available data, it was found out that the PM 2.5 levels in the city averaged 36 for a period of 6 months. This level is 2.5 times the permissible WHO levels and are categorized as unhealthy for sensitive groups. However as per Indian standards these levels are still considered to be moderate. PM 2.5 are fine particulate matters suspended in the air measuring two and a half microns or less. Presence of high levels of PM 2.5 in the air reduces visibility and causes the air to appear hazy and can pose serious health-related risks among people including respiratory issues.

The data presented in the studies are based on scientific research and it now for us to make informed decisions regarding our choices. More people need to take up cycling to make the city better. We need to understand that we all have a role to act responsibly for our own health as well for the environment. Let us join the revolution and be the change agents for a better future.

This article was written by Arshel Akhter and had first appeared in The Assam Tribune on 22/02/2019.

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